Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

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The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

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Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

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In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

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In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

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Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

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As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

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At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

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In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

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JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

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When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

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Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

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JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

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New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

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The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

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Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

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Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

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As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

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To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

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Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

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ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

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Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

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ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

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ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

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Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

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The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

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There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
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Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
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The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
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“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
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What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
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“Brotherly Hate!”


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We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

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We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

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With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

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They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

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This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

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What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got the all teen version, apparently, as we have not one, not two, but three separate stories about young people losing their freaking minds and blowing stuff up!  If that’s not enough to pique your interest, I don’t know what would, so check out today’s tales!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Batman #230


Batman_230“Take-Over of Paradise!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Danger Comes A-Looking!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This cover looks very Black Panther-ish, but the story inside features a different type of gang.  The headline tale continues to engage themes of youth involvement and demonstration, though Robbins’ handling of these ideas is a bit strange.  It begins with Batman intervening in a gang fight between two groups of young punks.  When he shows up, both of them turn against him, which doesn’t work out too well for their leaders.  I rather enjoy how little patience the Dark Knight has for their nonsense throughout this issue.  He gives them a speech about how, if they really care about their ‘turf,’ they should try to make it better, not tear it apart, and he reforges the kids into a singular community action group called ‘the Brave Barons.’  They channel their anger into productive avenues, cleaning up their neighborhoods and trying to make a difference.

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It seems like Batman has helped them find their way until a year later when Alfred draws his master’s attention to a news story featuring the Barons themselves.  They have taken over a new luxury apartment building in order to demand the city build affordable housing for its poor inhabitants.  They surrounded the building with a chain of explosives and are holding the structure hostage until their demands are met.

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Batman230-06The Masked Manhunter is furious at them and declares that they’ve made their beds, so they can lie in them.  He refuses to take a hand.  Now, I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, Batman is a hard fellow, so he might just let people too stupid to learn from their mistakes learn how much they can cost.  On the other hand, with Gotham in danger, he’s not one to sit on the sidelines, regardless of his personal feelings.  I guess you could say that he didn’t consider these kids any real threat, but it still strikes me as a bit off.

Yet, as the siege wears on, the Barons two leaders, Shades and Rap demand to talk to the Bat himself, hoping he can negotiate for them.  Tensions begin to show between these two as they wait, however.  While the Dark Knight reluctantly agrees to deal with the gang, Rap and Shades begin to fight.  Shades wants to demolish the building to make a statement, but Rap isn’t willing to go that far.  They struggle, and we cut away before we see what happens.

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Meanwhile, the Caped Crusader arrives and meets two more of the gang, Mouse and Kitten, who let him through.  Mouse leads the hero to the headquarters where the leaders had holed-up, but when they arrive, they find Rap dead!  The young man fills Batman in, then bolts as they begin searching the building.  Shades uses a megaphone to tell the Barons to clear out, and the Dark Knight zeroes in on his location, finding him in a closet with the detonator.  They fight a desperate battle, but Batman is able to put the kid down and disable the device.

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Strangely enough, when Shades tells Batman to take him in because he’s guilty of killing Rap, the Masked Manhunter is preoccupied, waiting for someone else to arrive.  He tells Shades that he didn’t actually kill Rap.  When the Baron’s leader blacked out, the real murderer finished Rap off!  Just then, the killer, anxious about the distinct lack of explosions in the building, comes to investigate, and the hero and the gang member capture the shadowy figure.  Only then do they realize that it is actually Kitten!

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Apparently this cat has some wicked claws, and she murdered Rap and framed shades so that she could take over and “show them what a femme leader could do”!  Yikes, that’s taking women’s lib rather far.  Batman suspected the truth when Mouse recognized the body even though he could only see its legs.  Yet, the hero didn’t suspect that it was Mouses’s girlfriend, rather than he himself, who had done the deed.  The story ends with Shades declaring that, even if things turned out badly, at least they got their ‘message’ across and that they’re willing to pay the price, which is a strange note to end on.  It almost seems to justify the Barons’ terrorist tactics.

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This is a story with potential but not enough space to actually accomplish its aims.  There are too many characters in too cramped of a plot to be effective.  We barely meet the two leaders before they are at each other’s throats, and we don’t really meet Kitten at all until she’s revealed as the killer.  The social themes at play here don’t have enough room to breathe either, though they add an interesting dimension to the story.  With the talk of “their people” and the cover design, I rather wonder if these kids were supposed to be black in the original concept.  That would likely have made this comic a bit too controversial at the time, though.

The central mystery of the murder is reasonably engaging, and I enjoyed both Batman’s deduction and his miscalculation about the killer’s identity.  It simultaneously showed his skill and his humanity.  That section worked well, however weak the motivations involved were.  Novick’s art was quite strong in this whole comic, but particularly in this first chpater where it is heavily atmospheric and nicely dramatic.  In general, the tale is just a bit too rushed and a bit too underdeveloped.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s a fairly mediocre story, but not an unpleasant read.

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“Danger Comes A-Looking”


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The robin backup that follows, however, is actually quite good, doing more with less.  It helps that Friedrich builds on what came before in surprising detail.  He’s really crafting an interesting ongoing saga for the Teen Wonder.  Not only does this story pick up threads from previous Robin backups, it also ties right in with last month’s World’s Finest, making the bombing and unrest on campus part of the young hero’s setting, which is a neat touch.  Once Superman drops him off, Dick decides to start investigating that bombing.

Before he can even get started Robin is jumped by three college toughs.  They bite off a bit more than they can chew, however, and the young Action Ace gives a good account of himself.  Well…almost.  He sends two of the three flying, and then one of them gets in a lucky gut punch.  Apparently this one punch leaves Robin too stunned to follow the trio as they run off.  Now, if you’ve ever taken a real punch to the gut, you know that it can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re not ready for it.  Yet, Dick was in the middle of a fight and he’s a trained fighter, so I’m not quite sure how things would shake out this way.  This scene bugged me, as it really only happens because of plot and it once more makes the character seem incompetent for the sake of a story.

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Whatever the case, poor Dick takes a licking, unable to spot anything of his assailants but their orange tennis-shoes.  The next day he has to wander around campus bruised and battered, which means he has some explaining to do.  He runs into Phil Real, our photographer friend from a few issues back, and a new girl named Terri Bergstrom, who catches our young hero’s eye.  They’re apparently part of a computer club that is working on a computer dating service, which must have been in the zeitgeist around this time.  After all, we got a mention of it in a Batgirl arc in the last year.  I touch on this short scene as I suspect it will prove important in a future issue, though it doesn’t figure into this story.

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Where our plot does pick back up is when Dick observes a notice in the school paper from Marty and Davy, his friends from the last World’s Finest adventure.  They ask Robin to meet them, and when he does, they tell him that they think they’ve figured out who the bomber is, but before they can explain their suspicions, the Teen Detectives spots orange shoes like those of his attackers and discovers that they are part of the initiation ritual of members of the Kappa Zeta fraternity (never trust a frat boy!), known as the Broncos.  The Titan pursues the boys and discovers them attacking a protest by the radical ‘Students for Democratic Action’ organization.

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Emulating his mentor in the main title, Robin flings himself into the middle of the melee, and he finds the two sides turning against him.  The Teen Wonder makes short work out of the first two attackers, which lets him calm the situation down.  Interestingly, the young hot-head, Hank Osher, who we met a while back, is heading up the protest, and he storms off, bad-mouthing the young hero.  Suddenly, his car explodes, seemingly confirming the theory that Marty and Davy had that the angry radical was the bomber.

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This issue ends rather differently than the Batman tale, as Robin notes that Frank caused his own demise as “playing with violence is like playing with fire!  Sometimes you get burned–permanently!”  The Teen Wonder is hard on himself for not having seen Hank’s role in the crime, but he’s also rather introspective about how he keeps finding himself in the middle, with both sides against him in these conflicts.  (I feel ya’, kid!)  I imagine it had to be tough to be a level-headed person during this era (though, I suppose a rational person is always on the outs with our world), someone aware enough to see the problems with the culture but reasonable enough to know that change has to be incremental to be sustainable and successful.

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This brief story is really fairly good.  You’ve got a lot of moving parts, and Friedrich is successfully fleshing out Robin’s supporting cast over the course of these backups.  He’s doing a good job of cramming a ton into these stories, and the payoff is exponential, as each new story builds on what came before.  Curiously, his writing is much less melodramatic and touchy-feely here.  The protagonist is faced with interesting challenges, and his stories being set in one of the most volatile and controversial areas of American culture during this period provides lots of plot and character possibilities.  This particular setup is intriguing, though I’m hoping there’s more to the mystery than meets the eye.  At the least, the issue of the orange shoes remains to be resolved, but I imagine there will be more going on with Hank Osher as well.  Taken in isolation, this little story is way too brief and incomplete to be successful, but in context, it makes for a solid step along the way for this arc.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it loses a bit for making Robin take a dive in the opening pages.

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Brave and the Bold #94


Brave_and_the_bold_94“Rebels in the Streets”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh Bob Haney.  Crazy, zaney Bob Haney.  This story is definitely a product of the Zaney one, and its contrast with this month’s issue of Batman is really telling of Haney’s disregard for continuity or characterization.  He is definitely in a world all his own.  This tale also deals with youth involvement, protest, and radicalism, but in Haney’s own inimitable style, upping the ante to a ludicrous degree.

The crazy is evident right from the start, as Commissioner Gordon and the army have the Gotham ghetto cordoned off because they’ve received a threat that the youth of the area have acquired an atomic bomb.  Yep, you read that right.  While the Brave Barons just got some regular old explosives, these enterprising youngsters went out and bought themselves some radioactive materials and built their very own weapon of mass destruction!  They want to negotiate, and The Bomb is their bargaining chip.  Batman is heading into the slums to meet with the kids of STOPP (Society to Outlaw Parent Power, a Bob Haney name if ever there were one).

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On the way in, a punk with a switchblade jumps him, but the Dark Knight easily disarms the kid, and offers to go with him peacefully.  It’s a nice little moment.  The revolutionaries blindfold the Masked Manhunter and bring him to their leaders, Mark, Chino, and Linda, who fill him in on the situation.  From the beginning, the tensions between this trio are evident, and the atmosphere is thick with animosity for anything and everything.

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This looks like the setting for The Dark Knight Returns.  Where are the Mutants?

They’ve got that late 60s ‘rebelling against the whole world’ vibe in spades.  The trio tell the hero that ‘The Genius Dropout’ built their a-bomb, which is a pretty impressive feat for someone who didn’t finish high school.  They give Bats a copy of the plans as evidence and send him back to the powers that be.  Once convinced, the city has the Caped Crusader contact Mark once more to get their demands.

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Apparently Andy Warhol is leading the resistance.

In the meantime, Batman is desperate to keep the peace, even begging for the President not to send in the National Guard and to give him time to resolve things peacefully.  Yet, Commissioner Gordon is not so patient, and he’s starts rounding up protestors and cracking down on the city.  It’s almost like being held for ransom by an atomic weapon is serious or something!  Friction develops between the old friends, and the Dark Knight keeps defending the kids, who, once they start playing with atomic weapons, seem to me to have graduated from youths to terrorists rather definitively.  Caught between the two groups, the hero calls in backup, young backup, and the Teen Titans come to help.

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Robin and Lilith show up ‘in mufti’ (civilian garb), while Kid Flash and Wonder Girl come in costume.  The first pair infiltrates STOPP to try and find the bomb while the others act as backup.  The kids are well organized and paranoid, but fortunately the Titans have laid their plans well, so they are accepted, provisionally.  As the two costumed kids search the town, Dick and Lilith join Chino to deliver their demands, which they do, with a bomb for some reason.  As Batman is trying to calm the powers that be, there’s an explosion outside city hall, and when the smoke clears, STOPP’s demands are on the door, like a set of theses.  On the way back, the undercover pair get spotted by the cops, so they knock Chino out and have their backup rescue them.

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Clearly these are cool-headed and rational people we can negotiate with.

The kid’s demands are actually pretty reasonable for the most part, though there are some glaring exceptions.  They want slumlords prosecuted, pushers arrested, and their garbage picked up.  Basically, they want the laws enforced, but they also want ghetto schools closed and all of their agitating fellows released.  Most outrageous of all, they want several public figures, including Gordon and Batman himself, locked up as a sign of good faith.  Keep in mind, all of this is being enforced by threat of atomic annihilation.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  While people very reasonably insist on rational actions, like evacuating the city, Batman insists that they kowtow to the terrorists’…er…I mean kids’ demands.

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Meanwhile, the search goes on with no luck, until the Dark Detective reasons that he might be able to find this Dropout Genius if he checks school records.  He tracks the underage Unabomber down, but discovers that he’s been arrested at the protests and has lost his memory.  Sure!  Why not!  With no time left because of Batman’s insistence on not evacuating, the city caves and agrees to all demands.  Yet, even that doesn’t stop the madness.  It’s almost like folks crazy enough to threaten to blow themselves sky-high shouldn’t be trusted to make rational choices!

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Haha!  They were planning to murder millions of innocent people!  Those scamps!

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Linda, one of the three leaders, refuses to surrender the bomb, swearing that the powers that be will never keep their word.  Yikes, and we thought Kitten was a crazy chick!  She only planed to blow up a single building.  This girl makes her look like an amateur as she plans to murder a town!  Linda steals the weapon and hides it somewhere else, so the Titans track her down.  Lilith uses her powers to invade the girl’s mind, but for some reason, she doesn’t just find the bomb’s location.  Instead, there’s a whole song and dance about what made the young harpy what she is as the psychic explores her past.  Apparently, Linda’s mother left her with relatives when she was young, and she had major abandonment issues.  She ran away when her mother was going to return seven years later, so the Titans figure that the mother is the key to the girl’s psyche…or something.

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DRAMA!

The revolutionaries agree to help the team find the woman, and we eventually get a big, emotional reunion, as the hurt daughter lashes out at her mother before finally making up in tears.  Ohh, and she also gives up the bomb.  Sheesh.  Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but I sorta’ don’t think that someone who is willing to nuke an entire city for no reason really deserves a happy ending.  Either way, the story ends with Gordon and Batman strolling off into the sunrise talking about making a better world.

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Those murderous sociopaths were going to kill us all, even after we gave them what they wanted.  What rapscallions!

Man, summarizing Zaney Haney ain’t easy! This story is just plain nuts.  It’s an entertaining read, (when is Haney NOT entertaining?) but the central premise is just so insane that I can’t get past it.  In addition, the reactions of both Batman and Gordon really drive me nuts, as they are completely out of sync with what is happening in the story.  After discovering that STOPP had hidden a freaking atomic bomb in a statue of the Dark Knight, the Commissioner treats it like a delightful prank by a precocious child.  He actually laughs about their antics.  The tone is wildly out of measure with the situation.  ‘Those darn kids and their atomic weapons!  Haha!  What rascals!’  That’s just a completely bonkers response to attempted mass-murder.

In  addition, look at the difference between Batman’s portrayal in this story and in his own title.  In his own book, the Caped Crusader is completely unwilling to negotiate with the gang when they cross the line from activism to terrorism, which seems rather fitting for his character.  In this one, he goes to incredible extremes to make sure that everybody complies with the little terrorists.  He’s completely sympathetic with their goals and even excuses their methods.  That’s about as big a difference as you’re going to see.  Now, I’m not a huge fan of Haney’s personal demesnes of character portrayals, but I generally don’t find it to be the worst thing ever.  Yet, even if your version of a character is different, it should still make some kind of sense!  Haney’s treatment of the themes that are clearly very powerfully present in the zeitgeist of youth involvement and the nature of social activism is about as out of touch and ridiculous as his stories usually are, and its weaknesses really show when read concurrently with what other authors were doing with the same ideas at the time.

I know this is a comic, and comics use broad strokes and larger than life characters and situations.  Nonetheless, this setup is just too ludicrous and too all over the place to work.  As usual, Haney throws in everything including the kitchen sink, with a homemade atom bomb, a trained youth terrorist army that can’t decide if they’re protesting or blowing things up, emotionally damaged women, Batman at odds with the authorities, and undercover teen heroes, and that doesn’t even cover everything!

On the plus side, we get some more of Nick Cardy’s lovely, soft pencils, but unfortunately, it’s a Batman story.  Though I love his work, I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Dark Knight.  Fortunately, we get some wonderfully atmospheric work on Gotham City and on the revolutionaries and the Titans.  Nobody draws the Titans like Cardy!  Yet, his art can’t save this tale.  I can’t get past the bat-guano premise and the fact that Haney wants us to empathize with terrorists who threaten to nuke their own city, so I’m going to give this one 2 Minutemen.  It’s still readable, but rather maddening.

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Clearly the state of America’s youth was on the zeitgeist, at least over at DC, at this time.  Just in today’s two books we see three different examinations (admittedly of varying quality and thoughtfulness) of the situation.  It’s fascinating to see such different perspectives on the issues of the day manifested so clearly in our comics.  Let’s see what interesting material our next books hold.  Please join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 7)

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Welcome to the final installment of Into the Bronze Age for February 1971!  It’s been a pretty solid month of comics, featuring some telling signs of the times.  For our final story this month, we’ve got an unusual World’s Finest, featuring a team-up between a hero and someone else’s sidekick, which is a fun change of pace.  So, shall we forge further Into the Bronze Age?

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


World’s Finest #200


World's_Finest_Comics_200“Prisoners of the Immortal World!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Don’t be fooled by this striking cover.  That mighty orange skinned alien is not, in fact, Mongul.  No, unfortunately, it’s a much less interesting villain.  Every time I see this cover, it takes me a moment to realize that the big, orange skinned guy in the purple costume with the yellow shape on his chest isn’t the cruel conqueror.  Nonetheless, the story within is an enjoyable one, even if it makes me wonder when we’ll see the alien annihilator in the Bronze Age.  Apparently he won’t make the scene for another decade!

Anyway, the story at hand is a bit uneven, combining several very different elements.  It begins, just like this month’s Titans issue, on a college campus.  This time, it’s Hudson University, the stomping grounds of the Teen Wonder himself, Robin.  The school is beset by protests and demonstrations, and Dick is right in the thick of it, helping to keep the peace.  The scene is being covered by Mr. Mild Mannered, Clark Kent, when suddenly the ROTC building gets firebombed!  What follows is really quite interesting from a historical point of view.

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During the 60s and 70s, there were several bombings of campus buildings that had a link to the military, so this little episode is drawn directly from the headlines of the day.  What’s more, in response the military moves in to take control of the situation, which intriguingly causes Superman to spring into action, as he reasons that soldiers on campus are apt to make the situation even more unstable in light of the Kent State Shootings and similar events.  The Man of Steel appeals to the governor and obtains orders for the troops to return to base, leaving the University in the hands of the campus police and the heroes and perhaps defusing some of the tension.

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WORLD'S FINEST COMICS 200 005Yet, not everything is resolved by this move, and Robin overhears two brothers, Davy and Marty, in a heated argument about the military.  They appeal to the young hero to help them settle matters, and as he tries to separate the two, Superman flies down and scoops them all up so that they can continue the conversation in more peaceful surroundings.

So far, we’ve got an interesting social story with some promising generational elements, but just at that point, the comic takes a hard left turn.  The quartet is swept through space by some type of teleportation beam (described, for some reason, as “magnetic body-grabbers,” because that’s how magnets work) and to an alien world.

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This is the home of a pair of immoral immortal brothers who, as they helpfully tell us, drain the power from captured super-beings to extend their lifespans.  They are currently over 150,000 years old!  The two bicker over the prospects for their next victim, and there’s the potential for some interesting parallel development between these brothers and the human siblings, but it doesn’t come together.

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The perfidious pair have set their sights on Superman, and when he arrives with his young companions, they use their “mind bands” to blast them with mental bolts, and Friedrich makes the first of a few strange choices, as the aliens talk about how the Man of Tomorrow’s body is invulnerable, despite the fact that they are presumably attacking his mind.  This will become a problem at the climax of the tale.

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With the Kryptonain captured, the immortals just dump Robin and the other two students in the inhospitable jungle of their world.  Inexplicably, we get a one-page origin and catch-up for Robin, which seems rather unnecessary.  Who doesn’t know who Robin is?  After wasting a page, we pick back up with the teen trio in a nicely bizarre alien setting.  Despite the wonder and terror of their situation, the two brothers immediately resume their fight.  Interestingly, Robin calls them ‘jackasses,’ which I was surprised to see in a Comics Code book.  His cool-headedness and impatience with their stupidity is entertaining.  The Teen Wonder organizes his little party, telling the boys to travel along the ground while he takes to the trees to act as a scout, and they make their way back towards the aliens’ citadel.

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Shortly, they are attacked by a group of hunters to whom they’ve been sold as game by the immortals.  They’re riding a massive, nicely exotic looking, horse-like creature, and they are thundering down upon the brothers.  Fortunately, Robin rescues Davy, though Marty gets mind-blasted.  The Teen Wonder is in his element up in the alien canopy, and he launches an acrobatic attack that allows him to scatter the stalkers.  Taking their ‘mind-bands,’ the trio continues their trek, soon arriving at the alien city.

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I always enjoy seeing Robin being awesome!

WORLD'S FINEST COMICS 200 018Meanwhile, the immortals have strapped Superman into their machine, only for him to burst free!  The Man of Steel quickly makes short work of their defenses, but they hit him with another mental beam, and he awakens to discover he’s been recaptured again.  It is then that the teen team arrives, and Robin takes out the guards with a batarang before leading an assault on the immortals and freeing the Metropolis Marvel.  Interestingly, Superman is held, not by bonds, but by a prison of the mind.  His escape and recapture was all in his head, designed to make him believe that freedom was impossible, which is a neat idea.

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Fighting Mad, the Man of Steel sets out to get his revenge, but the staging of the conflict is a bit odd.  Robin clearly freed him from the room that the immortals were in, yet the Kryptonian leaves by busting through the wall and goes somewhere else to attack them.  The internal continuity is a bit wonky here, and the scene that follows is where Friedrich makes his other strange choice.

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Pictured: half of a great two-page spread.  What the devil is going on with his legs?

The immortals recover and attack Superman, who overcomes them, not with his super strength, heat vision, or what have you, but by overwhelming their mental attacks with is own mental bolts.  That’s right, suddenly Superman has become Professor X!  It makes no sense, and there’s no way that he should be able to do this, making the resolution just feel cheap, especially because the immortals were already defeated by Robin and the others.

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The adventure helps Marty and Davy to realize that each of them has some merits in their points of view, and they shake hands, ending their argument.  The issue concludes with Clark Kent reporting on the boys’ strange experiences, focusing on the new unity between the brothers and hoping that the world can learn something from their example.

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There are a lot of good elements in this story, but they don’t combine into a single whole very smoothly.  The campus chaos raises some good questions, and the idea of real dangers helping us to put our differences in perspective is certainly a good one.  Yet, their intergalactic exploits are a bit too out-there for the moral to be as effective as it might be.  How often are aliens going to kidnap us to another world to be hunted for sport?  Well, I suppose the chance is significantly higher in the DC Universe.  Still, something more domestic might have been more effective as far as the message of the issue goes.  The alien adventure was good fun on its own merits, however, and it was great to see Robin in action, proving his independence and resourcefulness.  I really enjoyed how unflappable he was in the face of this crazy circumstance.  Superman’s inexplicable mental powers really take something away from the story, though.  Dick Dillin’s work is quite good for the most part here, especially on the alien flora and fauna, but he has a few weird panels throughout, like the two-page spread above.  I suppose I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.  It evens out, more or less.

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Final Thoughts:


We have certainly had a very interesting month in this batch of books.  The stories have tended to be solid rather than stellar, and we’ve had a number of rather disappointing outings, with a few previously reliable books turning out weaker offerings, like Lois Lane.   Nonetheless, there is a good deal to catch our interest here.  The growing focus on youth culture and youth involvement is on great display, providing a definite common theme being shared by many of this month’s issues.  Dissatisfied young people fill the pages of everything from Teen Titans to Aquaman, showing up in a good number of surprising places, like today’s World’s Finest.  It seems like everywhere the unrest on the nation’s campuses, the spirit of rebellion and independence in the youth of the day, is reflected in the pages of these comics.  What a change from only a year before!  There’s a growing sense of the importance of the youth and their voice in society, a more serious treatment of the younger generations as a whole.  This is producing stories that are uneven but interesting.

In the same way, we’re also seeing increased moral and political maturity appearing with greater regularity, like this months’ Superman and Phantom Stranger.  While the Man of Steel’s adventure emphasizes a more nuanced ethos than just law=good, the Stranger’s title actually takes a surprisingly sober and realistic (however brief) view of the cycle of vengeance and the conflict in the Middle East.  Of course, there’s also still some more ham-handed attempts at the same, like Mike Friedrich’s weak-sauce, tacked-on anti-war message in JLA.

Speaking of which, this month also saw the first unofficial crossover between the JLA and the Avengers, which was fascinating to explore.  I really enjoyed the chance to read books across the Big Two and compare them, and the process really put the different approaches of DC and Marvel into context for me.  It was quite an eye-opening experience to directly compare the JLA and Avengers books, and I think that might have been my favorite part of this month’s coverage.  The comparison revealed the greater sophistication of Marvel’s storytelling and characterization in contrast to DC’s greater imaginative breadth.

We also saw the continued activity of the League of Assassins in the Bat-books, which forms one of the longer-running plot threads we’ve observed so far.  We’re still in a period of mostly self-contained stories, which makes the Aquaman title’s layering in of plot threads all the more innovative and exciting.  Continuing plots do seem to be becoming a bit more common, which is interesting because around this time Marvel handed down an editorial mandate to eliminate continued stories.  I’m curious to see how this trend develops.

This was undoubtedly a fascinating month.  I hope that all you readers enjoyed the journey with me, and I also hope y’all will share your thoughts and reflections as well.  Please join me soon as we begin our travels through March 1971.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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This month saw two new additions to the Wall of Shame, with both Batgirl and Hawk joining the august company here.  It was a bad month for teens, but at least Robin didn’t have a return engagement, though I’m sure he’ll be back before too long.  Let’s just hope Aquaman can stay away for a little while.  Three in a row was enough!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 4-Special Edition!)

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Welcome to another stop on my journey Into the Bronze Age!  In today’s post, I’ve got something special for you!   The next book in the Roll Call is JLA #87, which has a rather unique origin and merits a slightly different approach.  It’s actually an interesting footnote in comic book history, one half of an unofficial crossover between DC and Marvel’s two top teams, the JLA and the Avengers!  In honor of this unprecedented event, I’ve decided to do a special post.  I’m going to put off covering the next few DC comics for a little while and cover both halves of this ‘crossover,’ as well as provide a little background about the event and the characters it created.  That’s right, for the first time in my Bronze Age feature, I’m going to cover a Marvel comic!

So, how did we end up with a quasi-crossover several decades before the official JLA/Avengers crossover event?  Back in 1969, rascally Roy Thomas of Marvel fame and the dynamic Denny O’Neil were friends, and they were each writing their companies’ respective big super-teams.  They decided to do an unofficial crossover, creating pastiche characters in each of their magazines.  The product of Roy’s efforts were the Squadron Sinister (Avengers #70), which would later spawn the Squadron Supreme and go on to become an enduring part of the Marvel Universe.  O’Neil seems to have chickened out a bit (JLA #75), producing only evil doppelgangers of the League, but a few years later Thomas tried again with Mike Friedrich.  The results were this month’s JLA story and Avengers #85 and #86.  There’s a little feature on this ‘crossover’ here that provided some background for this post.

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Justice League of America #87


JLA_v.1_87“Batman – King of the World”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

That’s a great cover by Neal Adams.  It’s in the hackneyed ‘hero acting out of character’ tradition, but it is still quite striking and beautifully rendered.  What lies inside is a red letter issue, featuring the creation of characters of very limited impact in the DC Universe but who are of significance in comic book history at large, the Champions of Angor!  I can already hear you asking, ‘who?’  That’s because these guys are pretty obscure.  In fact, they’re so obscure that I didn’t even include them in DCUG, which has almost every DC character you could imagine.  Nonetheless, the impetus for their creation as quixotic counterparts of Marvel’s premiere super-team, the Avengers, is actually really interesting.

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While both Avengers issues are classics and the characters introduced therein found a life of their own, this book is not quite so fortunate.  It’s a really fun read, but the Champions themselves are pretty forgettable and play only a minor role in the story.  It begins, not with the ersatz Avengers, but with Batman and Hawkman in battle with some unseen foe.  The Dark Knight is already down, but in a nice show of his fortitude and courage, the Winged Wonder, though badly battered, makes a final charge, only to be blasted by a beam of energy.  We then see a towering robotic figure, which has a pretty nice design, much better than the boxy robots from #84, looking a bit like one of Dr. Who’s Cybermen.  The mechanical man ponders Hawkman’s signal device and decides to trigger it in order to draw his fellow Leaguers…to their doom!

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Next we check in with Superman, who is apparently still mopey from his pity-party in the Flash’s book this month, and he thinks about how he’s alone on Earth.  To cheer himself up, he goes to seek out his fellow Leaguers, the only folks with which he can really identify.  I actually like that element of this scene, even if it is a bit overly emotional.  Heading to the satellite, he encounters Zatanna, who is given an oddly intense description by Friedrich and an awkward close-up by Dillin.  She’s called “The girl with the enigmatic smile and the dancing eyes,” and “the bearer of peace.”  It’s a bit…weird.  She apparently calms the Man of Steel with her mere presence and explains that today is the anniversary of the League’s rescue of her lost father, so she came to celebrate.  As it turns out, she arrived just in time to answer Hawkman’s distress call from South America.

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Apparently close-ups are not too flattering for the mistress of magic…

JusticeLeague087-05Superman, Zatanna, Flash, and the Atom arrive to discover Batman and Hawkman apparently just palling around with a giant, laser-spewing robot.  Nothing to see here!  Strangely, the Dark Knight acts like his fellow Leaguers are crazy, denying that they need any help.  In a funny bit, the Atom asks, with palpable snark, “What about the mysterious robot–doesn’t it strike you as a wee bit strange?”  That guy is six inches of sass!  The Masked Manhunter replies that, as Bruce Wayne, he was funding an archeological dig for Carter Hall’s museum when they unearthed the robot, and after it was awakened by the sun, it obeyed his orders.  This contains a fun idea, that Bruce would chip in to help his fellow Leaguers in their secret identities.  There’s some story and characterization potential there.

Well, needless to say, the team is a tad suspicious, and when Green Lantern’s arrival elicits an irrational outburst from Batman, they suddenly find themselves facing the menacing machine, apparently under his orders!  The metal monster targets Zatanna first, doing the classic robot bit of talking out all of its thought-processes and actions, revealing that it considers her the greatest threat.  The bot disables her with a power blast, and the Flash begins to blitz it while the Atom attempts to shrink inside its head.  Both heroes are repulsed by a force field and KOed.

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Superman and Green Lantern attack, but they can make no headway.  Analyzing the Emerald Crusader, the machine turns itself yellow, and apparently Hal lacks the creativity to, I don’t know, use his ring to throw rocks at it or something.  The android antagonist zaps Hal, leaving only a Man of Steel vs. a metal man, but even the mightiest Leaguer of all falls before the villainous machine.  This is actually an interesting moment, because Superman gets taken out, not by magic and not by kryptonite, but by more direct methods.  What makes this notable is that this is the first time we’ve seen such a portrayal in the post-kryptonite world.  It looks like O’Neil’s elimination of the emerald element is already starting to bear fruit, as you have to imagine that, if this story had been told a few months before, this android would surely have been armed with a kryptonite beam or the like.  O’Neil’s innovation is already leading to better storytelling.

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Back to the story, we discover that the robot was controlling Batman’s mind to throw the League off, and in order to keep him under control, it plays along with his growing power delusions, pretending to offer the defeated Leaguers to Batman as its ‘master,’ and thus recreating the cover.  This seems…overly elaborate and unnecessary, as the bot can’t possibly think the normal guy in the bat costume is much of a threat to it.  Nonetheless, we get a shock when the robot declares that the Justice League members are…dead!

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JusticeLeague087-17Of course, that can’t really be the case, and we see, one by one, that they are really alive.  It starts with GL and the Atom, as the Emerald Gladiator uses his ring to trace the robot’s transmissions home, wherever that is.  The Atom shrinks to subatomic size and catches a ride on the ring’s beam, following those transmissions to their origin in order to shut the machine down at its source.  That’s a pretty clever move, and it’s successful, as the android freezes just as it was about to destroy a native village in its search for minerals.

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The rest of the League look down on the battlefield, and we see that the Lantern created duplicates of them to trick the rampaging robot into thinking they were dead.  Weirdly, Friedrich describes these as androids, which doesn’t really seem to fit for the power ring, but it’s a minor point.  Superman heads off to get Batman and Hawkman to a hospital, and the remaining team members travel with the Emerald Knight to meet up with the Atom on the alien world from which their android antagonist originated.

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When they arrive, they discover nothing but ruins and a newly destroyed machine, courtesy of the Mighty Mite.  The planet seems to have been “shattered by nuclear warfare” ages ago, and just as the heroes are contemplating whether their enemies might still be around someplace, a quartet of strange looking super beings arrive.  These, at last, are the Champions of Angor, heroes from an alien world!  They include Jack B. Quick, a speedster who can fly for short periods, Blue Jay, a man with the power to shrink and gain wings, the Silver Sorceress, who has “hex powers” and a costume without even a hint of silver on it, and Wandjina, an Australian storm god armed with a powerful mystic weapon.  My, do these guys seem familiar or what?  Their parallels are pretty clear.  They’re obvious stand-ins for Quicksilver, Ant-Man/Yellow Jacket, the Scarlet Witch, and Thor.  Sadly, unlike their Squadron counterparts at Marvel, they aren’t terribly electrifying.

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Their designs are pretty awful, though a few of them (Blue Jay and Silver Sorceress) have some potential.  What the heck is going on with Wandjina’s weird little hairy epaulets?  Also, his name is pretty terrible.  There are literally hundreds of storm gods to choose from.  Why in the world did Friedrich pick one with such a goofy name?  Personally, I’d have gone with somebody like the Babylonian god Marduk.  He’s got a cool name, a good backstory, and provides some cool design possibilities.  Anyway, I think both their lackluster role in this story and their pretty weak designs help to explain why this foursome never amounted to much in the DCU.  It’s a shame, because I love the idea of the JLA having a surrogate set of Avengers to wail on from time to time.

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JusticeLeague087-20Back to our tale, the audience is let in on what neither group of heroes knows and is provided with the backstory of the planet.  Apparently it was run by competing mega-corporations, like some alien version of the Space Merchants, and they seeded the galaxy with robotic servants, each programed to harvest resources and send them home to their owners.  These interstellar companies eventually wiped each other out in an atomic war, but their mechanical servants remained.  Just as the League battled one on Earth, the Champions battled one on Angor, and they both tracked the robots’ signals back to this planet.  In classic ‘Marvel Misunderstanding‘ fashion, the two groups of heroes misinterpret each other’s motives and begin to fight pretty much immediately.  In a fun little touch, Friedrich includes a literal ‘literary license’ enabling him to translate the alien language.

The fight itself is really brief, effectively just one double-page spread, which is quite disappointing if you’ve heard about this issue and looked forward to reading it for the sake of this moment.  It is a cool spread, with each hero squaring off against their opposite number, though it is weakened by some heavy-handed narration about the madness of war.  We get it Mike, ‘war, what is it good for?’  I’m really rather sad that we, for some reason, get GL here instead of Superman because it would have been great to see the Man of Steel vs. the God of Thunder.  That’s really a missed opportunity.  I suppose it isn’t the only one in this issue.

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During the conflict, Jack B. Quick hurls some rocks at the Scarlet Speedster, who in turn, sends them flying back at his opponent, but one of them actually strikes Blue Jay, nearly killing him!  Zatanna immediately stops fighting and calls the Lantern over to help.  They heal the injured size-changer, and, in the usual fashion, this act of selfless heroism convinces the other side that they must have been mistaken about their opponents.  With the help of a ring translation, the gathered heroes share their stories and make friends, and the story ends with another really weird focus on Zatanna, as all the Leaguers give her a super-awkward looking group hug and the heavy-handed narration continues.

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This issue is just jam-packed full of plot.  There are at least two or three issues’ worth of story here, and I’m not even talking about the modern ‘decompressed’ methods of storytelling.  Once again, Friedrich’s narrative eyes are bigger than his stomach, as he just fills this comic with ideas that are all fighting to have enough space.  The result is a riotous and creative book that feels very rushed.  You’ve got the initial robot menace, the adventure to the alien world, the discovery of the backstory of the space merchants, and the fight with the Champions, any of which could easily have filled an issue.  Trying to pack it all in means only the first idea really got explored, and even that one ended very abruptly.  Of course, the biggest flaw of the book is , in some senses, the disappointing appearance of the Champions of Angor.  They’re barely in the story for six pages, and their big battle is over in two.  The concept of an Avengers analog is a promising one, but sadly, these guys don’t quite live up to their potential.

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Awkward moments courtesy of Mike “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich.

Despite its crowded plot and less than inspiring new characters, this is still a fun book to read.  There’s no question that this is better than last issue, even with its flaws.  While the ideas in this comic may be crammed together and largely unexplored, they are interesting.  We’ve once again got an impersonal, greedy corporate entity as our villains, which seems to be becoming a more common device and certainly feels fitting for the modern day.  You’ve also got a bit of an anti-war message here, but it’s so incongruous and so easily lost amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the more interesting elements of the story that it doesn’t amount to much.  It’s also more than a little strange that, despite her prominent role in this story, Zatanna didn’t join the League here.  That feels like another missed opportunity.  Dillin’s art is pretty strong, and that seemingly characteristic stiffness from his JLA work isn’t really in evidence here.  His design for the robot is quite good, but obviously his designs for the Champions aren’t so fortunate.  I suppose that, over all, I’ll give this fun but flawed issue 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the first episode and the intriguing ideas in evidence.

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Avengers #85


Avengers_Vol_1_85“The World Is Not for Burning!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: John Buscema
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Mike Stevens
Editor: Stan Lee

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

Some years back I read through The Avengers up through the early 80s, and I really loved the experience.  Perhaps if I live to be 150 I’ll have time one day to go back and read through all of Marvel like I’m doing with DC.  Either way, I love the Avengers as a team and a concept, and their comic is one of my all-time favorites.  Those early Avengers years in the Silver and Bronze Ages produced some truly great comics, and they are a blast to read.  As I’ve discussed before, while the characters who make up the JLA have a special place in my heart, I can’t deny that, on the whole, the classic stories of Marvel’s main team beat those of DC all hollow.  Here at the beginning of the Bronze Age, we’re in a great time for the Avengers, featuring some of my favorite stories from this series.

This particular issue begins with our star tossed heroes, Thor, Black Panther, Black Knight, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Quicksilver, and Goliath (the Clint Barton variety, a concept I never cared for), as they prepare to journey via Mjolnir.  They are returning home from the extra-dimensional tyrant Arkon’s world, where they just concluded the previous issue’s adventure.  Thor hurls his enchanted hammer about, ordering it to take them all back where they came from, but only three of their number arrive at their respective homes.  Goliath, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision don’t appear with the others, but Thor and the Panther don’t have time to investigate, as they are due to join Cap and Spidey at a Toys for Tots charity event, which is a nice little bit of detail.  It does seem like the matter of missing heroes might take precedence, but far be it for me to advocate disappointing disadvantaged kids!

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The missing Avengers find themselves only partially materializing, left in a wraith-like state on a world that is dying!  All about them, human beings burn horribly and the very streets melt under the fire of a raging sun.  Unable to do anything more than watch, they feel helpless.  Quicksilver, spying a paper, realizes that the date indicates that they’ve been gone for weeks rather than hours!  In an attempt to do something, Wanda uses her hex powers, and suddenly they find themselves solid and on a peaceful street corner on the right date.  Yet, there are subtle hints that all is not as it seems, as people don’t seem to recognize the team.

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When they arrive at Avengers’ Mansion, it too seems subtly different, and inside they accidentally trigger a trap before they are confronted by a strangely garbed figure who tells them that this is his team’s home!  This is Nighthawk, who the team had encountered months ago as part of the Squadron Sinister, yet he seems not to know them.  After an ill-fated attack on the diamond-hard Vision, Nighthawk employs the better part of valor and escapes through a secret door.  The Vision slips through and opens it, and the team pursues the mysterious masked man.

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Inside what should be their meeting room, they discover four new figures: Lady Lark, American Eagle, Tom Thumb, and…Hawkeye?  Well, neither pastiche team arrived fully formed, it seems.  This quartet are obvious parallels to Black Canary, Hawkman, the Atom, and Green Arrow, though, oddly, American Eagle seems more like a cross between Captain America and the Winged Wonder, as he’s an uber patriotic, flag-waver type, who immediately assumes the Avengers are commies!

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In classic Marvel fashion, the teams immediately come to blows when Goliath tries to get some answers out of Nighthawk in his usual hot-headed fashion, dangling the guy out a window.  Suddenly, a message comes over the view-screen, where Dr. Spectrum (Green Lantern) tells his team that the solar rocket ‘Brain-Child One’ is ready for launch, and he calls them the “Squadron Supreme.”  The Vision realizes that his team must have witnessed a glimpse of the future of this world and tries to explain, only for Tom Thumb to blind Goliath as the giant laughs at his diminutive stature (real sensitive there, Clint).  Interestingly, instead of having shrinking powers like the Atom, Tom Thumb is just a little person and inventor, making for a very unusual parallel.

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The teams leap into action, with Tom Thumb disabling Quicksilver with an adhesive that coats the speedster, Lady Lark disabling the Witch with a sonic cry, Hawkeye hitting the Vision with an explosive bolt, and American Eagle decking Goliath.  It seems like things are going badly for the Assemblers until Clint’s destroys Tom Thumb’s flying platform and the Vision recovers to take out Eagle and Nighthawk.

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Inside, Quicksilver shakes off his sticky prison and hits pseudo-Hawkeye like a cannonball, while the Witch turns the tables on Lady Lark, zapping her with a hex-sphere.  With the Squadron captured, the Avengers realize that they are going to need these strange heroes’ help if they are to save their world.  They take the reviving Nighthawk, commander a ship, and head to the launch site, explaining the problem in transit.  Fortunately, the nocturnal avenger (Freedom Force joke!) believes them, because without his help, they’d have to defeat the three strongest members of the Squadron!

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This comic is a blast to read.  It feels well-paced, and the plot has plenty of room to breathe, unlike it’s distinguished counterpart.  It is overwritten in the classic Marvel tradition, with dialog just everywhere.  Roy Thomas was always great at writing adventure stories, even if he followed in Stan’s footsteps by being very verbose, and this was no exception.  Notably, in contrast to the DC book, where the pastiche team received only a few pages, this entire issue revolves around the Squadron Supreme, first as mystery and then as antagonist.  They are given a great deal more space, and the fight between the two teams takes up roughly seven pages in this book, more than doubling the space devoted to the encounter in JLA.  Of course, they also feature in the next issue as well, where the other part of the Squadron gets as much room to shine as the Avengers themselves.  It’s no wonder that their appearance here proved much more memorable than the Champions’ over in DC.

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Of course, it’s hard to get much better than John Buscema art in the Bronze Age.  The man was a master, and there’s a reason that his run on this book is legendary.  As for the Squadron members themselves, their designs are, on the whole, stronger than those of their counterparts, but there are still some definite exceptions.  The new Hawkeye’s design is rather incoherent though his hood is neat, and American Eagle’s wings and helmet can end up looking rather goofy.  Lady Lark, Nighthawk, and Tom Thumb, however, benefit from solid, distinctive designs.  All of these characters would evolve in future appearances, but it’s notable how little those three changed.  From their very first appearance as villains ten issues ago, the original four members of the team had a pretty solid look and concept.  I’ll give this half of the adventure 4.5 Minutemen, an enjoyable adventure with some grand stakes and some interesting new characters.

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Avengers #86


Avengers_Vol_1_86“Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!”
Writer: Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Inker:Jim Mooney
Letterer: Shelly Leferman

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

The second half of this two-parter opens with the gathered heroes rushing to confront the remaining there Squadron members guarding the rocket as it prepares for lift-off.  For reasons of plot, Nighthawk must stay with the ship to shut it down, so the Avengers hurry to stop the launch, only to get into a brief fight with the Squadron members.  Fortunately, Wanda manages to hit the rocket with a hex sphere, which also has the power of plot, and stops the launch.  Just then, Nighthawk arrives and straightens everything out.  In a funny touch, Goliath notes that it’s nice to meet superheroes that they don’t end up fighting and observes that it is a rare occurrence for the team.  That’s a fun bit of self-awareness, and, just as the DC booked aimed at being a bit Marvel-ish, it seems that this one aims to be a bit DC-ish.

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Poor Pietro, perpetually in over his head…

After the Avengers tell their story, the Squadron members explain the rocket’s origins, and the mystery begins to unravel.  It seems that a decade ago a very unusual child was born, a son of two parents who had been exposed to great amounts of radiation who was born with an incredible intellect.  The child prodigy to put all others to shame, he was a brilliant scientist by the tender age of four!

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In an effort to increase his intelligence even further, young Arnold Sutton experimented on himself, giving him the most advanced mind on the planet, but making him a deformed freak.  His work was respected, but he was still ostracized and abused.  He became a top rocket scientist for the U.S., but eventually moved to a deserted island in order to be free of humanity.  It becomes clear that this brilliant mind is still the mind of a child, and it has decided to lash out at those who hurt it.  Thus, the rocket supposedly meant for exploration is actually a doomsday device.

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Back on the Avengers’ Earth, the remaining team-members try to bring their missing mates home, but without success.  Unaware of this, the lost heroes soldier on, teaming up with the present Squadron members to pay the young ‘Brain-Child’ a visit.  When they arrive on his island, they are met with powerful advanced defenses, confirming their suspicions.  In another DC touch, the heroes split up into teams and each try to break into the uncanny kid’s fortress from four different directions.  The speedsters take the first crack at him, naturally, but they get caught in a storm of flying rocks and must whip up their own super-speed cyclone to counter it.

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Meanwhile, Nighthawk and the Scarlet Witch encounter a massively muscled guardian who makes short work of the psuedo-caped crusader.  It also hypnotizes poor Wanda before she can hurl a hex sphere.  On the third front, Dr. Spectrum and the Vision encounter a weird, Lovecraftian creature that manages to counter both their powers and overwhelm them.

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The final team of Goliath and Hyperion (it seems like not teaming Hawkeye and Hawkeye is a bit of a missed opportunity!) attempt to sneak up on the genocidal grade-schooler, only for him to reveal that he has mental powers as well as great intelligence!  Brain-Child manages to take out the mighty Hyperion, who, in a fun touch, is called a ‘man of brawn.’  But, though stunned, Goliath is still fighting, and he employs his ex-identity’s expertise to turn Hyperion’s tough form into an improvised missile!

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The weakened Brain-Child collapses, and all of his traps, even his entire fortress, disappear as he loses consciousness.  The strain apparently snaps his mind back to its proper child-like state, and Dr. Spectrum uses his power prism to turn him into a normal boy.  The Squadron promises to take care of him and give him a normal life, and just then, the Avengers begin to fade out!  They arrive back home, their fellows finally having succeeded, and the story ends on a surprisingly sombre note, as the Vision ponders whether they can ever know if they are truly…home!

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I strongly suspect that this classic issue provided the inspiration for an excellent episode of the Justice League show featuring an ersatz JSA.  That episode featured a very similar antagonist.  The plot was admittedly quite different, but it did center around a post-apocalyptic world.  If true, that’s a fascinating line of descent, from JLA pastiche in the Avengers to JSA pastiche in a JLA show.  How neat!

As for the comic itself, it is another really entertaining story, and it is great fun to see the Avengers actually team up with their heroic counterparts from the ersatz-League.  It makes for a fitting end of the saga, and Brain-Child is a sympathetic and intriguing antagonist.  Thomas manages to tell his story with admiral brevity, yet still manages to make you feel for the little guy, creepy though he is.  There’s enough tragedy with this character to fit the high tone of the comic and make him compelling.  The ending is great, exactly what comics are all about, providing a hopeful resolution to the issue’s problem.  The little DC-esq touches to plot are also really fun for readers ‘in the know,’ as is the hint of self-awareness from Goliath.

In a fascinating and unusual display of erudition, this story references Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” with both its title and the comments of one of its characters.  This is a delightfully fitting reference, as Browning’s poem paints a scene of Gothic desolation as its knightly hero trudges slowly and painfully through a wasteland that the poet describes in detail.  Notably, it seems that at least some of the ugliness of his surroundings are a matter of the knight’s perspective, as he sees through jaundiced eyes and with the vision of despair.  Brain-Child experiences just such a vision of the world, but unlike Childe Roland, who perseveres to his ambiguous fate at the Dark Tower, the brilliant boy gives in to despair and decides to drown the whole world in fire, himself included.  The reference is a really neat addition to the story.

Once again, the art is superb, and Brain-Child is suitably disturbing.  I’ll give this issue 4.5 Minutemen as well.  It loses a little credit for the silly bit with Nighthawk in the beginning.

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Reading these stories in context is just fascinating.  They really highlight the different approaches to story-telling current at the two companies, as well as just being interesting as a piece of comic lore.  In comparison with the counterpart Avengers stories of this unofficial crossover, the weaknesses of the JLA tale are particularly telling.  The Avengers yarns are simply significantly better than the JLA version, and I once again find myself wondering just how the Justice League book survived with Marvel routinely kicking its backside every month in this era.

The Marvel books are just full of characterization and personality.  It’s on display in nearly every panel, overwrought, but present nonetheless.  In fact, even the brand new characters of the Squadron already begin to develop distinct personalities in the few pages allotted to them.  Compare that to the JLA issue, where only Superman really gets any characterization.  The scripting of the Avengers books is also a good deal more balanced, even if Thomas is more than a little purple in his prose.  The Marvel books are, as one might imagine, more character driven, while the DC title is much more idea driven.  In fact, one of the best traits of the JLA as a concept is on display in this issue, and that’s a tendency to engage big ideas.  Of course, those don’t get much attention, but they are present, nonetheless.  Interestingly, the DC book is really the more socially conscious, with its half-hearted anti-war message and its more memorable menacing corporate apocalypse.

The fates of these two groups of characters is quite interesting and illustrative.  It’s really impressive how quickly and completely the Squadron became fixtures of the Marvel Universe, even eventually starring in their own incredible and sophisticated maxi-series.  Meanwhile, it took around two decades for anyone at DC to do anything with the Champions of Angor, and even then their return is pretty obscure (Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay joined the JLI).  I can’t help but think that their respective fates reveal the quality of each group of characters, as well as the chance they had to make an impression on fans in their original appearances.  The DC team definitely seems like a matter of wasted potential, which makes one wonder, what might have been?

Until next time, I, like the Vision, will be pondering whether I’ve somehow ended up in an alternate reality ever-so-close to my own.  It would explain quite a bit.  Whatever universe we’re in, keep the heroic ideal alive, and be sure to join me again soon for another step on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!

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Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to part 2 of February 1971!  We’ve got a good pair of books in this post, and I found plenty to talk about.  I’m afraid I grow a tad long-winded on this one, folks, so be warned!  Let’s see what awaits us as we travel Into the Bronze Age!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Aquaman #55


Aquaman_Vol_1_55“Return of the Alien!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Computer Trap!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Man, I am LOVING these Nick Cardy Aquaman covers.  They’re always exciting, dynamic, intriguing, and just beautifully rendered.  This is a particularly striking example.  The story within is definitely worthy of such a great cover, and it returns to a plot thread readers must have thought abandoned back in issue #52.  This tale takes us back to the strange microscopic world that exists within Mera’s ring and to the brave girl who helped Aquaman during his sojourn there.  I was really struck by the moral conundrum with which Skeates faced his character in that earlier story, as the Sea King had to choose between leaving his alien girl Friday in the clutches of slavers or risk her death at the hands of a hostile colony.  While I understood Aquaman’s choice to abandon her, it definitely seemed like an unresolved issue when he came back to the normal world.  In this story, the Marine Marvel finally sets out to right that wrong.  It’s great that Skeates brought this thread back from three issues ago, despite there not having been a single mention of it since.  That level of continuity was still rather rare in this era, and it’s the smallest example of such in this issue.

The story itself begins with Dr. Vulko, playing his role as Atlantis’s resident mad scientist, as he prepares a machine to transport the Sea King back to the microscopic madhouse.  Apparently, in a fun little touch of universe awareness, Aquaman got advice from the Atom about how to build this shrinking device.  Operating the machine, Vulko reminds Mera that she must concentrate, as she’s vital to the procedure.  As we discovered in that earlier story, the Queen can actually exert some form of telepathic control over the realm in her ring.  There’s actually room for a really interesting set of stories exploring that connection and the origins of this place, and I have to think that Skeates saw that possibility.  Unfortunately, he never got the chance to investigate those mysteries.

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Vulko throws the switch, and Aquaman shrinks back to the surreal, Dali-esq sub-reality.  He begins to explore, but he encounters another one of those horrible cyclopean blob creatures that attacked him on his first visit.  Realizing that there’s nothing to be gained by fighting the monster, the Sea Sleuth evades it and continues his quest.  There’s a nice bit of characterization in that encounter, as Arthur evinces sound judgement but also shows some awareness of his public role as king, noting his subjects might not understand his actions.  As it turns out, that’s a thought that proves somewhat prophetic given the other events in this story.

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With the telepathic guidance of his wife, Aquaman succeeds in locating the colony of the big-headed slavers of the previous story, and he just charges right in swinging.  It’s a pretty dynamic sequence, as the Sea King just smashes into their defenses.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, Mera can sense that her love is in combat, and Vulko stresses that she must not think about wanting him to return to her or she’ll bring him back prematurely.  At the same time, Aqualad is observing a fiery speech in an Atlantean park, where a local nutjob has managed to acquire quite a following.  The rabble-rouser, named Noxden, is stirring up resentment against the King by claiming that the destiny of Altanteans is to be air-breathers, and this is a destiny of which Aquaman robbed them!

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I would NOT want to be in that guy’s way!

All the way back in issue #35, the Atlanteans were converted into air-breathers, and their king restored them (in issue #43), because it’s pretty stupid to live on the bottom of the sea if you can’t breathe underwater.  Yet, despite the utter absurdity of the fellow’s claims, people are beginning to listen.  There was a time when that would have seemed more far-fetched than it does today, I suppose.

Yet, if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that a looney who shouts loud enough and provides a convenient scapegoat for people’s problems will always be able to attract a following.  Aqualad is disgusted by the raving rhetoric, seething at the idea that Atlanteans would be so ungrateful to the king who had done so much for them, and he heads out to tell Aquaman.  Just at that moment, the Marine Marvel is getting overwhelmed by his alien antagonists and…oh no.  Not again…that’s right, the third head-blow in a row!  Arthur gets conked on the noggin and he’s down for the count!

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Before we learn what happens with the Sea King, though, we have another stop.  Subplots galore!  In this case, we’re touching base with Mupo, the fiery young man who led the rebellion against Aquaman’s regent-turned-tyrant way back in issue #47.  This book is just full of continuity!  Mupo has been swayed by Noxden’s speech, and he begins to spout some racist rhetoric, which Aquagirl calls him on.  The Marine Mistress shows her class by storming out on the moron.

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Meanwhile, Mera uses her connection with the ring-world to revive her husband, which si a nice touch and a way to give her more of a role.  Aquaman awakens as he’s being taken prisoner by the aliens and carefully times his escape, plowing through the guards that thought he was helpless.  As he’s swimming through the city, searching for a place to hide and make plans, who should he encounter but the object of his quest herself!  The girl signals him and hides the hero while they talk.  The Marine Marvel realizes that she’s communicating with him telepathically, despite the fact that this was against her beliefs when they last met.

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Aquaman55_14She explains that her captors have opened her mind and taught her to think for herself, strangely enough.  Yet, even more surprising, when he tells the young lady that he’s there to rescue her, she refuses, saying she’s happy in her role!  While she may be a captive, she is, in many ways, more free than she was in her oppressive home.  It’s an interesting wrinkle and an unexpected twist.  Yet, it is also a bit unsatisfying.  Our hero has gone through all of this to save her, and she doesn’t want to be saved!

Stunned, Aquaman leaves, realizing that he’s got twenty hours on the clock before he’s due to be recalled and hoping he can find somewhere to hide and wait for his rendezvous.  At the same time in Atlantis, our plot threads are converging, as Aquagirl encounters Aqualad, just as she’s thinking over things with Mupo.  When the young Aquatic Ace brushes her off in his hurry to see the King, she thinks that the more he ignores her, “the more attractive Mupo looks!”  Uh-oh Garth, better watch out!  You’ve got competition!

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Nobody draws action like Jim Aparo.

Back in the microscopic world, Aquaman encounters another group of the aliens, and as he’s tearing his way through them, he suddenly begins to grow, way ahead of schedule!  When he arrives back home, Mera apologizes, realizing that her anxiety must have inadvertently led to her recalling him, but her husband stops her, saying that she came through at the perfect time.   Just then Aqualad arrives and tells his tale, but Aquaman silences him as well, reminding his young charge that he respects free speech and isn’t about to start censoring folks he disagrees with, which is a nice character beat.  The story ends with a very striking image of Noxden, gesturing in a manner that is grimly familiar.

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This is a very good tale, and it is absolutely packed full to the gills (if you’ll forgive the expression) with plot.  In fact, it’s so stuffed with story that I had trouble summarizing it!  Skeates is layering in storylines that could stick with the book for a long time to come, doing some worldbuilding, and in general giving Aquaman a more fully realized setting to inhabit.  Of course, that makes the title’s impending cancellation all the more heartbreaking.  None of these plotlines will get resolved in the next and, as it happens final issue, leaving so much undone, so much potential wasted.  I suppose I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the final issue, but on this read-through, I’m really struck by how much this loss hurt the character.  At the very beginning of the Bronze Age, where the DC Universe is evolving and growing, and when he had a fantastic opportunity to do the same, the powers that be cut the legs out from under Aquaman.  That’s just a crying shame, and it explains a lot of the problems the character has had since then.

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Anyway, in terms of the story itself, it is a really enjoyable read.  The quick cuts between the different plots keep it moving at break-neck pace.  While the resolution of the plot of Aquaman’s girl Friday is a bit of a letdown, the adventure that reunites the pair is pretty exciting.  It does seem like the Sea King could have offered her a third option, or at least tried to do so.  He could have sent the Atom in to bring her up to Atlantis, where she could have had her mental and physical freedom.  Maybe that idea would have materialized in time, if Skeates had been given the opportunity.  We’ll never know now, I suppose.

I enjoy the mini-plots with Aquaman’s supporting cast.  At this time, the Marine Marvel is the only character that has his entire extended super family gathered around him, giving him unique story possibilities that other characters with similar supporting characters don’t have access to at the moment.  It’s great to see Skeates take advantage of that.  I also love seeing more of Tula in general.  The character she developed into under Skeates’ pen, capable, level-headed, independent, and still with a great sense of adventure, is one that I really love.  The plot of the trouble-making politician that the young Aquatic Aces are mixed up in is certainly not a new one for Aquaman, but this time it comes with a new twist.  Interestingly, part of Noxden’s platform is a call for free and democratic elections, which is actually quite sensible and seems only natural to an American audience.  After all, one of the central values of our culture is reverence for democracy.  There is a lot of potential for some fascinating stories in the interplay between tradition and progress in Atlantis.  Sadly, we won’t really get to see Skeates develop that potential.

In the end, though this isn’t a perfect story, it is a lot of fun and just full of intriguing beginnings.  The SAG team has done a lot of experimentation, but I rather feel like, with this issue, they were settling into what would have been a very promising routine.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Computer Trap”


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We’ve got a very pleasant surprise this month in the form of an extra Aquaman yarn as a backup in this issue.  This is a great little 7 1/2 page story that hits on some unexpected themes.  The backup begins with Skeates doing a bit more aquatic world building, as the Sea King, returning from a mission on the surface, swims through a submarine ghost town.  It’s a forlorn abandoned city that rather gives our hero the creeps, and while he’s pondering what happened to its inhabitants and how long it has lain empty, he suddenly detects a telepathic signal.  Strange!

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When he goes to investigate, he discovers an advanced computer, a self-aware machine that attacks his mind!  The AI attempts to enslave his will, but Aquaman is no mental weakling, and his incredible willpower and mental strength hold off the telepathic attack.  In the interim, we get treated to a flashback to this device’s origins, and it’s a pretty interesting story, the archetypal ‘machines turn on their masters‘ setup. An advanced aquatic society built this powerful computer to help run their civilization, but, in a classic twist, the machine found the humans far too unstable and imperfect, so it simply took over.

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In this case, the device actually dominates the minds of the citizens and turns them into efficient little worker-bees, creating more and more machines and more and more advancements, all in the name of ‘progress.’  That was the great ideal, progress for its own sake, and progress defined as technological growth, while all else in this culture decayed.  In a really neat take on the concept, the machine can only control the minds of the adult society members because their brains are fixed and rigid, leaving the youth to grow disaffected and eventually to abandon the colony in search of a place that valued more in life than the endless pursuit of ‘progress.’  In a cool example of truth in fiction, the minds of young people actually are more flexible and less fully developed, so this is surprisingly believable on that score.  Of course, there are also obvious social parallels as well.

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Eventually, the machine’s slaves grew old and died, leaving no-one to serve it.  The computer plans to use Aquaman to attract a new population to pursue ‘progress,’ but the King of the Seven Seas is nobody’s pawn.  He stops fighting the device long enough to summon help, and though the computer invades his mind, the timely arrival of an electric eel breaks its control!  To put an end to the menace of this mad machine, Aquaman summons a horde of his finny friends, and they collapse the cave it inhabits.  Yet, Skeates leaves a note of mystery in the ending of this tale, as the machine may yet survive!

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This is a quite a good story for as brief as it is.  It helps that it fits into the end of the previous yarn, building off of its momentum, allowing this one to feel a bit more expansive than it really is.  Skeates also deals with some really fascinating themes here, including the dangers of the rapid pace of technological advancement, one of the perennial subjects of science fiction.  As long as man has built machines, there has always been a fear that they might somehow cost him his humanity.  As it turns out, it’s a fear well founded.  We’ve begun to see that our hypertechnological society comes at a cost, with kids losing the ability to interact socially because of their addiction to social media and the like, not to mention the impact of information and sensation overload in the Internet Age.  These are just the newest manifestations of an ancient phenomenon.  Very little that we create comes without a cost, and it seems that those costs are growing more dear.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story for me was Skeates’ implicit criticism of the concept of progress as its own goal.  C.S. Lewis described the origins of this tendency brilliantly in his essay “De Descriptione Temporum,” where he wrote of the modern idea of a progressive, which is to say ‘evolutionary,’ view of history:

“that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image.  It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.”

And he critiqued this view in his Mere Christianity, arguing that:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

There can be no progress without a concept of a destination, without an ideal and a goal, and you’re either moving closer to that end or you’re moving further away, so movement by itself is not necessarily progress.  It’s a useful lesson to remember, and, in its own small way, this little backup tale teaches it.  The departure of the colony’s youth makes the point rather well, as they are searching for the things that give a culture its soul, the things that make life worth living, like the sublime pleasures of art and literature.  Of course, Skeates’ story is so brief that it can do little more than gesture at its themes, but they are interesting enough on their own merits that they still add some flavor to the final product.  I’ll give this great little backup 4.5 Minutemen, as it gets extra credit for at least having the potential to be thought-provoking.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said at this point, but Aparo’s art in this issue is as beautiful as usual.  His depictions of the action scenes are particularly impressive, but I just plain love his illustration of the ring-world.  He gives that place such a wonderfully insane feeling that it really adds something to Aquaman’s adventures there.  His Tula is a tad off this issue (she’s probably the only Aqua-character for whom I really prefer Nick Cardy’s rendition), but Aparo, as usual, also injects a lot of personality into the supporting characters.  That last shot of the rabble-rousing politician is a bit chilling and instantly conveys the fellow’s nature and personality.


Batman #229


“Asylum of the Futurians!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Not the most amazing cover we’ve had here, though I suppose it does do its job of making the reader curious about what’s going on.  And what is going on is rather weird.  This isn’t the type of terrible, lazy story we’ve encountered from Kanigher in the past, but neither is it the stronger type of tale he’s been telling lately in our reading.

The yarn itself opens with a young woman running along a country road where she encounters the Batman, who has come searching for her and her husband.  Her name is Laura, and how the Dark Knight knows her isn’t explained.  When she asks about his fortuitous arrival in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night, he just says he’ll tell her later.  Odd.  She proceeds to tell the Caped Crusader that her husband disappeared in the middle of the night, and when she found him, the scene she witnessed was almost enough to drive her mad!

Refusing to describe the source of her trepidation for fear he won’t believe her, Laura leads Batman to an eerie, gloomy old house in the woods.  Therein, they observe a scene out of an asylum, as musicians play on invisible instruments, waiters serve phantom food, and diners dressed in futuristic garb eat off empty plates.  They observe Larua’s husband, Stephen, a “famed photographer of psychic phenomena” looking on in befuddlement before he finally breaks out in anger, demanding to know the meaning of all of this.  In response, the creepy lady in charge yells out that they thought he was “the Seventh Futurian,” but since they were mistake, they must kill him!  His work made them think that he’d be able to “hear” their music, and “taste” their food, things only a Futurian can do.

Batman takes that as his cue, rushing in and overcoming the gathered gang and their futuristic weaponry.  It’s a nicely drawn sequence for the most part, and it ends with only the girl left standing.  She declares that the Futurians are “the wave of the future,” born psychic and destined to rule the world.  They have cells all over the planet, waiting for the arrival of the Seventh who will lead them.  She reasons that only one person could overcome five of her fellows, and thus the Dark Knight himself must be the Seventh for which they’ve been waiting.  They hand the Masked Manhunter a crown, and he decides to play along in order to take care of them peacefully.  But it’s a trap!  The crown tightens on his head, knocking him out, and the Futurians decide to put him to the test.

Taking a book out of Renaissance witch trials, they lock him in a coffin and toss it in the lake, thinking that only the special Seventh could escape from a watery grave.  Inside his sinking prison, the Dark Knight uses the now loosened crown to pick the coffin’s lock and swims for the surface.  For some reason, the Futurians seem sure that this guy they’ve just tried to kill, TWICE, who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, is going to help them take over the world.

Instead, for some strange reason Batman seems more inclined to punch them in their faces.  He takes them out, using the estate’s statuary, and captures their lovely leader.  Then, as he takes the rescued couple home, we discover that when Stephen was captured, he “screamed silently for help,” and somehow, that call reached the Caped Crusader.  The question of psychic powers is left ambiguous, but not in a particularly productive way.  It’s so vague and these characters so forgettable (I had to go back and look up their names), that it doesn’t have much impact.

This is a mediocre story.  It’s okay, and Novick renders the action nicely.  Yet, the Futurians are too big of a concept to be tossed out in 15 pages while also vying for space with two other supporting characters, one of whom is entirely superfluous to the plot.  Kanigher could have just had Batman show up at the house and saved two pages for better use.  The gang/cult themselves are just shy of being interesting.  With some more development, they could have made the jump, but as is, they just seem like generic would-be world-conquerors.

In general, the concept of this story just doesn’t quite manage to come together, and that concept, interestingly enough in light of the Aquaman backup tale above, seems to be tied into Futurism, an early 20th Century cultural movement originating in Italy that, coincidentally enough, advocated complete neglect of the past and an ethic of unbridled progress.  Even when I first read the “Futurist Manifesto” in college, I thought its principles were utterly foolish.  To once more quote Lewis, he argued that “[t]o study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians” (12).  Far from enslaving us, a knowledge of the past frees us from the blindness that makes contemporary mores into commandments and fashion into fact, and it also puts bygone days in their proper context, removing the rosy tinge that nostalgia tends to apply to all such visions.

But what has this story to do with Futurism?  It’s only tangentially related, but I can’t help but think that it is this movement which Kanigher had in mind when he penned this tale.  The antagonists of the piece read like a more militaristic version of the Futurists, which is impressive considering just how militaristic the originals were.  There are some definite parallels, and the sad thing is that these guys could actually furnish some really interesting villains if they were given any chance to develop a personality other than ‘strangeness.’  The story just feels a bit unfinished, though it is entertaining enough.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.


“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”


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It’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of Hudson University.

The second half of this Robin tale is pretty good, even better than its predecessor.  It picks up with the student volunteers for Prof. Buck Stuart’s senate campaign as they try to make sense out of the shocking newspaper headline from last issue and the picture showing their golden boy giving a payoff.  In an interesting scene, a hippy-looking kid blows his top and tells Dick Grayson that he’s through playing by the rules before storming out.  What makes the scene fascinating is the boy’s mention of the Kent State Massacre.  Bringing that real event into the story instantly makes it feel more serious and grounded, and it really puts the kid’s anger and impatience into perspective.  This election, and those like it in which young people were getting involved, mattered.  They mattered because they were a chance to show the youth of this country that the system worked…or risk driving them into the streets in anger and despair.  It’s a small moment, but it struck me nonetheless.

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The story continues, with the candidate himself arriving and telling the boys that the claims are phony.  With the help of Phil Real, the campaign photographer, Dick does some good detective work by realizing that the damning picture is doctored and sets out to prove it as Robin.  The Teen Wonder heads to the local paper where the editor tells him in no uncertain terms that their publisher is backing the incumbent and won’t allow a retraction without hard evidence, so Dick goes in search of just that when the fellow reveals that their source’s name was…Phil Real!

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When Robin arrives at his friend’s room, he finds Phil’s roommate, who is one of the kids behind the fire at the campaign office from last issue.  The firebug and his friend jump the young hero, and for the second issue in a row, Robin barely escapes a slot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as he gets his bell rung pretty good.

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Still, he keeps his feet and easily dispatches the two college-toughs. In the room he finds the evidence he needs of the photo tampering, enough to force the paper to print a retraction, which helps to swing the election in Stuart’s favor!  At the end of the tale, Dick Grayson leaves the victory party, saying there’s still much more work to be done, an ending that I rather liked.  There’s something in it that indicates our young hero is growing up.

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This is a good ending to this story, and it manages to pack a really impressive amount into these seven pages.  There’s enough of a misdirect to make the mystery feel somewhat satisfying, with the evidence of both this and last issue seeming to point to the photographer.  Robin gets to display some detective skills and gets in a touch of action as well, in general, being portrayed as the intelligent, capable, and resourceful young man he is, which hasn’t always been the case with these Robin tales.

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It’s nice to see the Teen Wonder come off well.  He is one of my favorite characters, after all.  This iteration doesn’t have as much focus on youth involvement in politics as the previous one, but together they make an interesting whole, commenting on the situation.  It’s fascinating to see the social unrest of the period work its  way so clearly into comics, and this tale is a particularly obvious example of the tendency.  I’ll give it a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for the second part of February 1971.  I hope y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll have a little something from the Dark Knight and the Fastest Man Alive.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Oh no!  Three in a row!  Poor Aquaman.  He just can’t catch a break, and the biggest blow of all is yet to fall.  Once again, Robin narrowly avoids inclusion on the Wall of Shame, and no-one else has really come close.  We’ll have to see if this month holds any more additions to the august company.

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 2)

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Hello readers, and welcome to another Into the Bronze Age feature!  Today we’re tackling an Aquaman and a Batman issue, two of my favorite characters and two of my favorite books, but this month doesn’t quite provide two of my favorite stories.  Nevertheless, I’ve got a fun and interesting set of reading for this post.  Check it out below!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Aquaman #54


aquaman_vol_1_54“Crime Wave!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well ladies and gents, this is a weird one.  It’s a self-professed experiment in storytelling, and not an entirely successful one.  Yet, neither is it a failure.  It’s a bold attempt to do something new and innovative with the format of comic book storytelling, and the SAG team definitely deserve some kudos for being willing to try new things, which they’ve been doing all along in their run on this book.  Yet, I feel like this script could probably have used one more pass in order to make it truly a hit.  Nonetheless, what we have is a creepy, disconcerting tale that is apt to stick in the mind, and all under a very striking cover by the inimitable Nick Cardy!

The comic is actually two stories, a framing narrative and an interpolated episode happening at the same time.  We start with two cops, John and Paul, and I feel like that might well be a reference of some sort which I can’t quite place, who have arrested a well-dressed man who had broken into a jewelry store (might it be a reference to the Apostles?).  The man is in a strange daze, unable to say anything other than “I’m dead!  Thanatos killed me!”  Apparently, the zombiefied thief is actually a prominent socialite, one of a string of respected citizens who have suddenly and inexplicably turned to crime.  They all evince the same bizarre behavior, and the police are stumped.  The detective, John, orders the passive prisoner taken to “the science boys,” in hopes they can figure out what is behind this.

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Meanwhile, Aquaman has been visiting with some surface friends and has forgotten about his one-hour limit, which is stupid in multiple ways.  I’ll give Skeates a pass on the use of the limit in general because he’s just working with what he’s got, that being the established canon at this point.  Interestingly, the team includes a very fitting poem in the opening of the tale that hints at what lies within.

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The King of the Sea is hurrying home to the water when he’s jumped by another suicidally overconfident gang of plain-vanilla street-punks, just like those that attacked the Flash last month.  Sheesh!  Is there something in the water in the DCU that gives generic gunsels delusions of grandeur, or what?  I suppose that something like that would explain why folks like the Ten-Eyed Man think they can cut it as supervillains.  Well, this gesture should have been incredibly foolish, but unfortunately the Marine Marvel doesn’t perform too marvelously.  He tears them up until…that’s right, the notorious head-blow strikes!  I’m really not crazy about random punks being able to take down the super strong, super tough Atlantean, as I’ve said before.  It really feeds into that inconsistent portrayal of his powers that plagues the character.  Generally speaking, that isn’t a major fault of the SAG run, but it does crop up from time to time.  I’ll give this instance a partial pass, though, as the hero would have been weakened by his time out of the water.

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Either way, what follows is very strange, and a reader is apt to feel like they’ve missed a page.  Suddenly, we’re presented with a black panel with a few enigmatic word balloons, then Aquaman is suddenly free, walking down a spooky lane and approaching the faded magnificence of a crumbling mansion.  He has a note from Mera asking him to meet her there, yet there is some malignant presence within the house.  When the Sea King approaches a mirror inside, his image distorts, grows, and becomes a grotesque exaggeration of his form before bursting from the glass and attacking him.  What is going on?!  It’s a brave narrative gambit, and it works fairly well to invite the readers into the hero’s own sense of confusion and bewilderment.aquaman54_07

Suddenly, Aquaman awakens in Atlantis, with Mera leaning over him.  She tells him that some kind surface -dwellers brought him back to the sea and he was rushed home, but she denies any knowledge of the mysterious note that drew him to that house in the first place.  Aquaman feels responsible for unleashing the monster that attacked him, whatever it might be, and he says that it is up to him to stop it.  That’s a good character moment.  It captures his sense of duty and morality, as he feels the necessity to take responsibility for this creature on himself, despite the fact that he was duped into releasing it.

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Yet, before he can act on his impulse, we get another mysterious black panel with frantic dialog about how “He’s coming out of it!  Turn that thing up!” and other such exclamations.  Suddenly, Aquaman finds himself battling the being, which calls itself Thanatos, on a strange, surreal landscape.  Here’s where we get one of the issue’s missteps, as our perspective suddenly changes and we follow Thanatos himself for a time.  I think the action panel is supposed to serve as something of a chapter heading, rather than part of the story, but it’s so unclear that it breaks the flow of the story.  What’s more, following Thanatos and seeing his point of view doesn’t make sense in context of the story’s resolution.

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aquaman54_13We watch as the rampaging monster attacks Atlantis, and when Aquaman responds, he can’t seem to make any headway against the beast.  He gets weaker as it gets stronger!  Despite his best efforts, Thanatos knocks him out, causing him to awaken in bed once again.  Mera tells her husband that Thanatos headed out to sea, and despite being weakened, the Marine Marvel heads out after him, fearing what will happen to life in the ocean if the monster has free reign.

We check back in with the cops, who obligingly provide us with some exposition.  Apparently, a local crime lord has been kidnapping prominent citizens and subjecting them to a strange type of brainwashing.  The subject is trapped in their own mind, fighting an amped-up version of their own death instinct, and when the psychic manifestation ‘kills’ them, they become “death-driven,” beginning to act as pliant criminals for the mastermind.  If you’ve had any psychology classes, this may sound a bit familiar.  If so, it’s because this is basically Freudian psycho-analysis, and as such, is more or less debunked these days.  Still, Freud serves as a useful touchstone for popular conceptions of psychology and for exaggerated comic book science.

aquaman54_17Well, we can probably figure out what’s happening to Aquaman now, which is why I think this reveal should probably have been postponed a bit.  We get another mysterious black panel, now a bit more understandable, and suddenly the King of the Sea arrives in…an underwater Wild West town!  It’s quite strange, but given that we know he’s in a dreamworld now, it sort of works.  I really wish that Skeates had toyed with this a bit more, told us, perhaps, why Aquaman would imagine a western town for his showdown.  I feel like there’s some fun character work that could have been done there.  Was a young Arthur Curry a fan of Wagon Train, Have Gun-Will Travel, or the Lone Ranger?  Personally, I see him as identifying with The Rebel (Johnny Yuma).

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Our hero plays the part of the unwelcome stranger, and the townsfolk give him a cold shoulder until Thanatos arrives for a reckoning, submarine six-shooter and all!  We get a bizarre but fun underwater Old West face-off, straight out of a classic western, but once again, the monster saps Aquaman’s strength, and he gets hit!  Of course, this causes him to awaken again in Atlantis, and he begins to put the pieces together.  The Sea Sleuth deduces that none of this is real, but just then, Thanatos breaks into the palace!

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The two aqua-foes square off as the two policemen raid the hideout of the crimeboss they think is behind the zombiefied citizens.  Inside, they discover the same slimeball who had kidnapped Mera back in issue #44, which started the classic ‘Search for Mera’ arc.  What follows is interleaved action, as the cops take down the villain’s gang and Aquaman takes down Thanatos in a really cool Aparo splash page.  While the other prisoners are zombiefied, the Sea King is able to resist, to hold out against his own worst instincts, until the policemen free him.  The story ends with our hero on his way home to Atlantis, ready to spend some time with his beloved, noting that they’ve been apart too much lately.

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aquaman54_20-copyAs I said, this is a weird issue.  The attempt to tell a dream story within another story is an interesting one, but Skeates breaks his own story logic by following Thanatos for a time, despite the fact that, in the scheme he sets up, this monster should be nothing more than a manifestation of Aquaman’s death-drive.  He shouldn’t really have his own motivations and desires, short of killing his alter-ego, especially because this is all happening in Arthur’s mind.  I think it would have been more effective to just have the beast show up every few pages and disappear inexplicably.  Skeates almost achieves that, with the constant reversions to the palace and the clever use of his black panels.  I do like that the villains have a hard time keeping Aquaman under control.  It’s another of those story beats that emphasize the power of his mind and spirit, which I always enjoy.

Aparo’s artwork is excellent as always, and the brutal, maniacal face he gives Thanatos really helps to establish the dangerous and fearsome presence of the character.  The story has a nice, moody color palette for many of the encounters with the monstrous manifestation and the scenes with the cops chasing their leads, giving the comic something of a noirish feel at times.  As usual for an Aparo book, I find myself having to restrain myself, because I tend to want to post every other page or panel because the comic is just chock-full of striking images.

The unexpected and unheralded return of Mera’s kidnapper is something of a letdown.  His roll could easily have been filled by any generic thug, as his backstory doesn’t impact the plot at all.  We don’t even get a ‘curse you Aquaman’ type moment.  It just feels like something of a waste.  The end result of this issue, uneven as it is, is still an enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, giving credit for the innovation that Skeates attempts despite its mixed success.

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P.S.: This issue also has a very neat feature in the form of a letter from Steve Skeates about his writing process, talking specifically about the recent O.G.R.E. issue as well as this one and relating an intriguing story about how the writer actually worked for a group of industrial spies for a time!  It’s interesting to read about his perspective on these tales, but his account just drives home my feelings about the role of the spy organization in the last issue.  To bring OGRE back, only to tell us that they’ve been definitively shut down seems…something of a waste.  Nonetheless, check out the rare glimpse behind the curtain!

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Batman #227


batman_227“The Demon of Gothos Mansion!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Help Me … I Think I’m Dead!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: John Costanza

This issue of Batman, while not perfect, definitely captures the mood and feel that I identify with the Dark Knight.  I feel like we’re getting closer to that definitive Bronze Age Batman.  The plot has a few weak points, but the cover story really manages to strike the right tone for the character.  We get one of those always slightly ill-fitting stories that pits the (relatively) grounded Batman against the supernatural, but this outing does so with a fairly light touch that works pretty well.

batman-227-004The story centers around Alfred’s niece, Daphne Pennyworth, who made an appearance not that long ago in Batman #216, a story I only vaguely remember.  She’s written her uncle a letter explaining that she’s gotten herself into more trouble.  She’s taken a job at a remote manor house which is the scene of mysterious happenings.  It might be nothing, but a rather Hal Jordan-looking Bruce Wayne offers to look into it for his friend, and just like that, we’re off!  Batman investigates the estate, prowling the grounds and discovering armed guards.  That’s suspicious, so he tests their intentions by just strolling into sight and letting them take a shot at him.  I rather like this whole sequence, as the menacing, torchlit shape of the Batman strikes an ominous figure.  He is so capable and so on top of things that when they attack him, he easily takes them out in a nicely done page.

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Having discovered that something untoward is definitely going on, the Dark Knight decides to spy on the other inhabitants of the estate, and he observes something quite unusual from his vantage point.  The owner of the mansion, Heathrow, and two followers pass by, discussing a dark ritual and the summoning of a demon named Ballk!  Something sinister is afoot!  The detective helpfully informs us Ballk is “one of the nastiest creatures of mythology,” but in this case, the name seems to just be made up rather than drawn from actual myth.

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batman-227-013Now with some idea of what the trouble is, the Masked Manhunter goes in search of Daphne, who he finds locked in a tower of the mansion.  She fills him in on her predicament, telling him she was hired to teach Heathrow’s two children, but she discovered that they were “a pair of hideous dwarves!”  Whoa, I’m thinking that’s not politically correct!  Apparently Heathrow forced her to don an elaborate old-fashioned dress, the same dress as worn by the woman in an old portrait in her room, a woman who could have been her twin.  The mystery nicely established, Batman breaks her out, only to fall prey to a trap and be taken prisoner by Heathrow’s two little henchmen.

The master of the manse happily conforms to generic standards and both leaves the hero unattended in a death trap AND provides him with some grade-A exposition as well.  It’s convenient, but as I’ve said before, it’s an established part of the genre, so we can accept it.  Apparently, Heathrow’s family have served the demon Ballk for hundreds of years, and he and his followers have been searching for just the right woman to sacrifice to the beast, a woman who is an exact match for the original victim that once freed the spirit.  Daphne is just such a woman, and they plan to sacrifice her at midnight!

The trap itself is a fairly clever affair.  Batman is placed on a stone pedestal that is attached to counterweights, slowly sinking and tightening a noose about his neck.  His escape is excellent, as he tightens his neck muscles and swings, by his neck, to grab a torch off the wall with his feet, burning the noose off.  It’s a wonderful display of acrobatic acumen and grim determination, and it makes for a heck of a page.  Once free, the Dark Knight meets a shadowy figure who he thinks is Daphne, but her strange speech and hypnotic effect on him reveal that she is actually the ghost of the demon’s first victim.  In the only real weakness of the issue, the Masked Manhunter suddenly falls in love with her in a subplot that doesn’t really have enough space to breathe.

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The phantom female leads our hero to a black chapel, where a horrible ceremony is taking place.  The Masked Manhunter intercedes just in time to rescue Miss Pennyworth and interrupt the ritual.  In another cool sequence, he scoops Heathrow up bodily and hurls him at his followers, scattering them like ten-pens.  The old man dies, either naturally or as a result of dark magic gone wrong, and the Dark Knight frees Daphne.  With matters settled, he rushes out into the night to track down the ghostly girl, but she fades away, leaving nothing but her portrait and a weeping hero behind.

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The romance subplot is a bit odd and doesn’t really work, but the rest of the issue is good fun.  O’Neil nicely establishes a Gothic horror feel for the tale, and the coloring and moody art really helps to bring that effect to life.  The central plot is a conventional one, but it works despite its familiarity because of the good presentation.  I particularly like Batman’s portrayal as capable, dynamic, and grimly resolved.  His escape from the death trap is one of the high points of the issue, as is his effortless defeat of the guards at the beginning.  We’re approaching that spot-on portrayal of the character that I’ve been looking forward to.  Novick does a great job on the art for this issue, really turning out a striking book.  In the end, this story succeeds in its creation of atmosphere, tension, and mystery, even when the plot goes astray, so I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“Help me…I think I’m Dead!”


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This Robin backup is an interesting one.  It features the Boy Wonder getting involved in politics, a prospect I’m of two minds on.  On the one hand, I’d prefer politics stay out of my comics, except in the broadest ways, but on the other, it makes sense that folks who pursue justice and have strong moral compasses would probably get involved in trying to fix their world with more than just their fists.  In either case, we’ve got another campus-centric adventure here, but unlike some of the previous stories, this one works pretty well with its setting.

The story opens with Dick Grayson arriving for a shift at “Friend’s Phone,” a student-led phone counseling service of sorts.  Basically, its for kids who need someone to talk to, and it’s a nice thing to see the Teen Wonder involved with.  However, when he answers his first call, he recognizes a voice on the other end, a voice that is incoherent and panicked.  Rather than call the police, which, in such a situation, would be a pretty fair response, he changes into Robin with the help of a trick briefcase and goes to investigate.

The voice belonged to a boy named Phil Real, who works for the same local political campaign that Dick has joined, but when the hero races to his apartment, he sees the young man tottering on the edge of a cliff.  With an acrobatic rescue, the Teen Wonder prevents a tragedy, and Phil, the campaign’s photographer, tells him that he had accidentally poisoned himself with developing chemicals and went out of his head.  While pulling the pair out of the river, Robin notices how terribly polluted it is, and we discover that this is, in fact, the central issue for his candidate, Prof. ‘Buck’ Stuart.

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I have to think it wouldn’t be quite as bad if you were wearing pants, kid.

The next day we see a debate between the incumbent, Mr. Forte, and Buck, and it seems the town is on the Prof.’s side.  Yet, we see the wheels of corruption turn a little faster than the wheels of democracy, and the local corporation that is behind the pollution of the river passes orders down to stop Buck, one way or the other.  Those orders go into effect that night, as Robin is driving around town in his red micro bus and sees masked men running out of Stuart’s campaign office, which is ablaze!  In a scene that is clearly meant to be cool but just seems rather weak, the Teen Wonder flips a switch on his dash and changes the bus’s license plate.  That’s the only disguise the vehicle has.  I’m sure that no-one could possibly connect the guy who drives around in a red micro-bus to the masked crimefighter who ALSO drives around in the same type of vehicle.  Nope, that license plate is a stronger disguise than Clark Kent’s glasses!

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Robin leaps into action, taking out one of the saboteurs before narrowly avoiding another slot on the Head-Blow Headcount!  He takes a blow to the back of the head and gets stunned, but he doesn’t quite get knocked out.  So close!  Unfortunately, the punks get away, and the political supplies in the office are a total loss.  Nevertheless, the kid volunteers redouble their efforts and take to the street to get the word out.  This is an interesting angle, as Friedrich focuses on the growing political power of teenagers, which was a rising factor in this period.  It’s neat to see that referenced in comics, especially comics aimed at just such an age group.  This story has something of an implicit encouragement to get involved.

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Yet, the newfound vigor and momentum don’t last, as the local paper prints a picture that seems to show Prof. Stuart paying someone off to pollute the river and strengthen his case.  That’s where we are left, with many more questions than answers.

This is a solid story, especially considering the fact that it only has seven pages to do its work!  Friedrich sets up a good mystery, gives us two nice action beats, and even does a tiny bit of world building for Dick Grayson.  The one real problem with this setup is that the gadgets provided for the young hero have all been rather lame.  I think the poor kid is getting the short end of the stick.  While his mentor has Batmobiles, Batplanes, Batboats, and even WhirlyBats, poor Robin has…a micro-bus.

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Obviously there isn’t much to this backup tale, but it is a good start, and I look forward to seeing what develops next issue.  Interestingly, there is a political undertone to this story, since our hero is backing a politician aiming to curb pollution and balance economic and environmental concerns.  It’s quite routine for us today, but I imagine it was a bit more challenging in 1970.  All-in-all, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Fascinatingly, I just just discovered that this Robin story has a lot in common with an actual event from 1970!  Apparently, the river fire that sparked the events of the first JLA story I covered, JLA #78, had its origins in the headlines of 1969, when the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio went up in flames.  This served as a rallying point for the beginning of the environmentalism movement, and in 1970, students at Cleveland State University got involved in local politics by staging a march to the river to protest pollution.  That hardly sounds like coincidence to me, and I have to think that this story of a polluted river and college students rallying to effect change must be related to those real events.  If so, we’ve got yet another touchstone for the impact of the growing social consciousness in comics.


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Sadly, my favorite character moves into the lead on the Headcount, adding another appearance to the Wall of Shame.  Robin, despite a close call, will not join him again just yet.


That will do it for today, folks.  Thanks for joining me for a further jaunt into that great comic era, the Bronze Age!  Please join me again soon for a few more classic comics.  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 3)

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Well, let’s try and squeeze a few more of these features in bef0re Christmas, shall we?  Join me today for some Zaney Haney madness, and some more Bat-adventures!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Brave and the Bold #91

brave_and_the_bold_91“A Cold Corpse For the Collector”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We return once more to the land of the wacky, the private demesne of ‘ol Zaney Haney, Earth-H.  Haney’s work has been very hit or miss for me, some of his stories being outlandish but exciting fun, while others were just too goofy and too far out there for me.  This one, though, is definitely a hit.  It fits the Haney formula of casually introducing a world-shattering change to a character while giving absolutely zero thought to how the given revelation will be handled going forward, but unlike some of the offerings we’ve encountered, this one makes a fair amount of sense, and the characterizations aren’t really all that far off from what one might expect from the characters involved.  The final result is actually an interesting tale that, while lacking any real impact on the universe, easily could have been an important milestone for the Justice League’s newest dynamite dame, Black Canary.

She, of course, is our guest star for this issue, and it is her backstory, not yet twisted and retconned beyond all recognition, that provides the dramatic weight for the yarn.  The core of the story is a standard villain identity mystery, with an enigmatic mob figure secretly pulling the strings in Gotham’s shadows.  The book opens with a mob exchange gone wrong, resulting in one dead bagman and one stolen score.  This event causes consternation to the gathered crimebosses of Gotham, who are meeting in a darkened, smoke-filled room, with a rather surprising guest.  It seems Batman shares a seat at their table!  It is shortly revealed that this masked manhunter is a fake, a plant hired by the shadowy mastermind known as ‘The Collector’ (because he always ‘collects,’ ‘natch), to sit in on their meetings and give them Batman’s perspective on their dealings so they can anticipate him.  Riiiiiigggght.  Foolproof, I’m sure!  A cape and cowl do not a detective’s mind make, methinks.  This is an odd gimmick, made all the odder by the fact that Haney did the exact same thing in World’s Finest just last month, with a crime boss (who actually was Batman, strangely enough) dressed as the Bat.  I guess he thought it worth repeating.

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At any rate, the Collector promises to solve the problem of the rival gang without a war, and in the interim, the real-and-for-true Dark Knight is busy helping Commissioner Gordon identify the bagman who took the long last dive.  They are joined by private eye Larry Lance, a name you more astute DC fans might just recognize, except, this is not THAT Larry Lance.  That’s right, we’re on Earth-1, and surprisingly, Haney actually bothers to make that clear.  It’s rare for the Zaney One to actually specify where and when a story was taking place, or give continuity anything but mostly benign neglect.  Well, this universe’s Larry is also investigating the Collector, and though Gordon has no time for him, the Caped Crusader is willing to work with the shamus.  It is very strange to see Batman playing good cop to Gordon’s bad cop.  That’s just unnatural.

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Back in Lance’s office, he encounters a lovely lady, a lady going by the name ‘Myra Kallen,’ but who we likely recognize as Dinah Lance.  That’s right, this is Earth-2’s Black Canary.  She apparently has found the Earth-1 counterpart of her dear, departed husband, and despite the hugely problematic and complicated philosophical and psychological implications of the relationship, has determined to win Larry-1’s heart to replace the Larry she lost.  From the beginning, it’s clear she’s not thinking too clearly about this whole situation, but that actually makes pretty perfect sense.  How could she be objective about such a thing?  How could anyone?

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Later that night, a disguised Collector ‘collects’ from the rival gang, killing their leader at an illegal casino while posing as a dealer.  Batman has anticipated this move, and he’s hard on the killer’s heels, only to catch the gumshoe, Lance, instead.  I imagine we’re all likely genre-savy enough to see where this is going, but unfortunately for the love-struck lady in the leather jacket, the plot continues to barrel towards its inevitable conclusion.

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The P.I. hands the hero a line about how he was chasing the guy and was clocked on the head right before the Dark Knight grabbed him.  They find a discarded disguise that seems to confirm his story, but, and I enjoyed this, the master detective remains suspicious.  I like that Batman isn’t entirely taken in by the subterfuge here.  When the pair meets up with ‘Myrna,’ the Masked Manhunter recognizes the Canary, and when they are alone, he warns her away from Lance.  She rejects his advice, insisting that she has to run her own life, but she sticks around just long enough to save him from an assassination attempt.

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That takes ‘yellow journalism’ to a whole new level…

The next day Batman and Gordon are apparently just hanging out, drinking coffee, which makes for an image I find quite humorous and a little charming.  They get a tip from the suspicious shamus that the Collector will be holding a meeting at the Gotham Museum, but when the Dark Knight arrives, all he finds is an ambush.  Just as he’s about to grab the gunman, the hitman gets hit from behind, by Lance!

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This looks like a setup for the greatest version of the Odd Couple ever.

Once again, his story seems plausible, but the Caped Crusader isn’t entirely sold on it.  Unfortunately, he cannot convince Black Canary to share his doubts.  She accuses her Justice League colleague of being jealous, and interestingly enough, he admits to himself that he does have some feelings for her.  I thought that was a nice little touch, and let’s face it, basically everybody in the League except for the married guys made a play for Canary at one time or another.  Who could blame them?

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The Pretty Bird’s problems don’t end there, though, as Larry-1 arrives just then and overhears enough to figure out who she really is.  He proclaims his love for her, and Haney does a good job of making him seem fairly earnest, if just a touch greedy.  It’s a surprisingly subtle handling of a scene that couldn’t have borne anything more than a light touch.  It’s pretty solid characterization.  The sweet-talking shamus convinces the fighting female to help him catch the Collector…or at least, that’s what he says.

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The next night, Lance contacts the Dark Detective with another tip.  He claims the Collector will be at a deserted racetrack, but when he arrives, the hero is sideswiped by a sonic scream.  Black Canary is using her powers against her former friend!  You guessed it; time for the big reveal.  Larry-1 shows his true colors, preparing to murder Batman and announcing that he was the Collector all the time (gasp!).  Canary puts herself in harm’s way to save her teammate, but she’s too stunned to take Lance down.  Fortunately, the Caped Crusader is still fast with a batarang, and he disarms the crime boss.  The two heroes chase after him when he flees on horesback, and we get a nice, dramatic chase sequence, with Canary showing off her motorcycle riding skills, vaulting over and smashing through obstacles.

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Batman tackles Lance, and the two fall, still struggling, into a pond.  In classic ‘hoisted on your own petard’ fashion, the villainous gumshoe impales himself on his own knife (or at least, that’s what Batman says when Canary shows up.  Sure Bats. Sure.).  The story ends with Canary’s lament about the loss of her old life and the challenges of building a new one on Earth-1.  Fortunately, she will have friends like Batman.

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This is actually a very solid story.  It’s definitely Haney, but it’s enjoyable Haney.  He hit on a really great concept here.  If there was a Larry Lance on Earth-2, chances are there would be one on Earth-1, but what if he wasn’t what his counterpart had been?  It’s a good idea for a story, and while it could probably have benefited from a bit more development, it was a fun and interesting read.  Canary doesn’t come off great, but her equivocation about Larry is actually quite believable.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get back someone we’ve lost, even if it wasn’t exactly the same?

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We’re still seeing the kinder, gentler Batman that Haney prefers in these books, and the character here really bears fairly little relation tothe grim avenger we encountered in the other Bat titles lately.  Canary is also a little less the capable heroine we have seen elsewhere.  Nonetheless, this is, in the end, a good story, made extremely creepy by the retcon that’s coming to her backstory in a few years (we’ll get there, eventually).  Good thing it could easily lift right out of her history because it’s a Haney tale.  I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen.  I love Cardy’s art, but I don’t think he’s quite right for Batman.  His style is a bit too soft for the Dark Knight.

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This comic also had a rather neat little gem hidden in the letters page, a story of the real-life heroics of artist Nick Cardy.  Apparently he piloted a tank in World War II, where he met the editor, Murray Boltinoff.  In a fun little touch, Boltinoff relays a short adventure from the Big One.  Check it out below:

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Detective Comics #403

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“You Die By Mourning”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Pencilers: Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Break-Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for yet more Batman!  The Caped Crusader being overexposed is definitely not a new phenomenon.  It’s a good thing he’s a great character, otherwise this might get old.  It’s also fortunate that his stories tend to be above average, though that isn’t really the case for this issue.  Both of this month’s Detective yarns suffer from brevity and a resultant lack of development, and as we’ve seen from the Legion backups, that doesn’t have to be the case, even for these short comics.  The headline tale, with the wonderfully melodramatic title, “You Die by Mourning,” is a bit odd.  It’s nicely atmospheric, but the individual elements don’t really come together in a satisfying whole.  I’d bet this is another story conceived of for the purpose of a particular image or moment.

Our drama dawns with the arrival of a veiled woman dressed in mourning clothes in Bruce Wayne’s V.I.P. (Victim’s Inc. Program) offices.  Calling herself, Mrs. Randall, she meets with the man himself, and frantically claims she’s there in relation to the death of her husband, a death which has yet to occur!  A gun falls out of her purse when she reaches for a handkerchief, and she flees the office, leaving a mystery in her wake…a mystery that piques the curiosity of Wayne’s alter ego, the Batman!

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That night, the Masked Manhunter heads to the Randall home, where he sees Mrs. Angela Randall and her husband, the unlikely named ‘Laird’ Randall (is he Scottish nobility?) getting ready for a costume ball at a haunted house.  The hero suspects that Angela is plotting her husband’s demise, but he can’t figure out what brought her to V.I.P.  He stows away aboard the eerie horse-drawn coach that arrives to transport them, and along the way they are attacked by a car full of gunmen.  The coachman, apparently in on the job, leaps clear, but the Dark Knight saves the Randalls with a smoke bomb and some quick action.  The gunmen’s car wrecks in the smoke, and we get a nice scene where Batman quickly and efficiently disposes of them.

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I love the moody effect of that last panel.

He sends the Randalls on ahead with the coachman, which turns out to be something of a mistake.  The muffled figure pulls a gun when they arrive at the “party” house, empty save for the three of them.  We then get a couple of pages of exposition that pass for the resolution, as Robbins packs all of the story he neglected earlier into his last few pages.  The coachman reveals that he is a mobster named Van Paxton, who runs a paving company that Randall was bidding against.  Just as he prepares to kill the couple, a dead ringer (pun only partially intended) for Mrs. Randall leaps in the way.  In a twist that comes mostly out of nowhere, it is Angela’s estranged twin sister, who also happens to be Paxton’s wife.  She married the no-goodnik, and she was so ashamed of what he was that she cut all ties with her sister.  When she learned that Paxton was going to kill her sister’s husband, she visited V.I.P. in the hopes of raising a red flag about the whole thing and…somehow…saving him.  Oookay.  That’s a lot of convoluted plot to cram into just two pages.

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Just then, Batman arrives and tackles the killer.  Brown isn’t always my favorite artist, but his work is usually just plain solid.  His action looks good, and he often does some pretty good layouts.  This story is no exception, and the confrontation between the Dark Knight and Paxton, though not jaw-dropping, is good, clean four-color art.  We get yet another story where the villain is hoisted by his own petard, as the mobster falls through a floorboard and…strangles?  It isn’t super clear, but he is totally dead.  That’s the important part.  The poor twin sister is mortally wounded as well, and the story ends with her prediction to Bruce Wayne having come true in a way she never anticipated.

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This is an entertaining enough tale, but it isn’t of the quality we’ve been seeing from the Bat-books lately.  The ending is rushed, and the setup is far too brief to be effective.  All of that exposition shoved into the last pages means that we don’t actually get invested in any of the characters.  It doesn’t help that our hero’s climactic struggle is against a single average guy.  The stakes aren’t really impressive enough to make the fight exciting, though Brown’s art helps matters.  The overly complicated plot with the unlikely twists just sort of leave a reader cold.  It seems that Robbins really had a bit too much story for his venue, and the result is not good, though it isn’t actively bad like some we’ve read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, since it is enjoyable, if unimpressive.

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“Break Out!”

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The Robin backup faces similar problems to the headliner, and once again, the Teen Wonder doesn’t come off too well in his own feature.  This is becoming a sad tradition.  This story, weighing in at only 8 all-too brief pages, just doesn’t have the space it needs to accomplish its purpose well, even building on the previous issue as it does.  If we remember, in the last Robin tale, the younger half of the Dynamic Duo broke up a fight among juvenile delinquents from a detention farm, only to pick the wrong pigeon and belt the innocent party.  After those events, our teenage hero has set out to visit that farm in order to get a better idea of what conditions are like on the ground there.

We find him lost and having run out of gas in his groovy Volkswagen van, stuck in the pouring rain.  Not the most auspicious of beginnings.  He’s passed on the road by two kids in a truck, but he eventually gets some help from an older couple, and we get the hilariously 60s line from our protagonist that this “goes to show our ‘over-30s’ can’t be completely written off.”  At least he’s not too angsty to realize that, which puts him ahead of some teen heroes, so I’ll take it.

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When he finally arrives at the farm, he finds it covered with police, so he switches to his battle togs and breaks out his brand new Robin cycle.  Now, don’t get excited.  While you might be expecting all kinds of cool new gadgets and maybe an exciting car chase to accompany this debut, all we get is a line of dialog about the super swanky license plate changer that this bike features.  That’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, it seems to me, especially with the focus on Robin building his own identity and career as a solo act.

The cops tell him that two of the kids from the farm have escaped in an old truck, and they show him the strange message that was left scratched into the floor of their barracks.  It reads ‘Forced to go–guns buried-help me.”  It turns out the missing kids are the same two from the previous donnybrook, and, determined not to make the same mistake again, our Teen Wonder jumps to the opposite conclusion, and decides the the bigger of the two boys, Ed, must have kidnapped the smaller one, Frank.

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Recalling the truck that passed him on the road and performing a nice bit of deduction, he tracks the kids to an abandoned barn and finds them both loading shotguns.  Robin jumps the smaller kid, and belts him, ignoring his pleas of innocence, only to narrowly avoid a blast from the other boy’s gun.  The junior detective takes out the gunman, and then gets the story from a rather bitter Frank.

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Man, whatever Gil Kane’s strengths are, he cannot draw a gun to save his life!

The kid relates how ‘Big Ed’ was working for a mobster who wanted him to recruit a ‘teen-age’ gang for him.  The would-be teen-boss had even stashed some guns and supplies out by the farm.  Frank had pretended to go along with Ed in order to bust him in hopes of earning some time off his sentence.  It was he who left the note on the floor.  There’s a bit of a message crammed into the last little bit about playing by the rules, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because no-one wants to spend their life looking over their shoulder.  That’s a fairly cynical view, really.  I suppose this kid will go far in this dirty world of ours.

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So, as you can see, this story just isn’t all that much to write home about.  It’s a teen problem, which they seem to enjoy putting Robin up against, but the stakes just aren’t too high and the plot and characters aren’t developed enough to make it work.  If we had gotten to know the two kids just a bit in the previous story, this could have worked much better.  As is, the very first time we start getting to know them, we’re already in the denouement with exposition flowing fast.  This just felt a bit boring and bland, in addition to being underdeveloped, and that’s never a good thing for an adventure tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  There’s a bit of evidence of the generation gap here, but nothing particularly noteworthy.

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These two issues were a mixed bag, but none of them were particularly impressive.  They were enjoyable enough, though.  I think the most interesting part of both books was the letter column feature about Nick Cardy’s war service.  Who knew?  That was a neat surprise, and it also says something about the difference in the generations that populate the ranks of DC at the time.  I was struck with the thought that Cardy was part of the old guard, the professional writers and artists who, along with the rest of their generation, shared an almost universal experience of war service.  They had experienced privations, hardships, and much more, and most of them were also children of the Depression in one form or another.  The upcoming generation hadn’t had those experiences, but they had grown up on the comics the previous generation had created, and now they were beginning to take a hand in the field.  I’m curious what differences will be revealed about the two generations through the work that they produced.  We are, here in the 70s, going to see the change over taking place.  It should be interesting to observe.